Richard North, 03/11/2016  

Written about with approval in the Guardian we had yesterday a new report on Brexit "from a group of independent academics and political scientists". The report is called: Brexit and Beyond, with the subtitle "how the United Kingdom might leave the European Union", and in 32 pages attempts to do what Flexcit has already done, only not anything like as well.

Nevertheless, the report has been put together by a team from the ESRC-funded UK in a Changing Europe initiative, calling itself "The Political Studies Association". Thus, in the eyes of the Guardian, it has "prestige" and gets an airing – while the longer and more comprehensive Flexcit has been all but ignored by the newspaper.

According to the editorial-writers, the PSA report "is exactly the sort of sober and factual document that the UK government is derelict in its duty by not producing for the British public". It performs, we are told, "the practical educative service of spelling out many of the choices facing Britain".

These range, says the Guardian, from when article 50 should be triggered (as late as possible, in the Guardian's view), whether it can be revoked (yes), how many negotiations are required (it's hard to avoid several), and whether there will need to be a transitional period (almost certainly).

The report also deals with the form of consent needed at the end of the process (parliament or maybe an election, in our view) and even the explosive issue of whether the referendum is binding (in practice yes, but in law no).

And without any sense of irony, having so determinedly ignored Flexcit, the newspaper tells us that: "The fanatical anti-EU press has a vested interest in not publicising any of these", but then goes on (in an editorial which is headed: "MPs must raise their game") to tell us that MPs and parliament have no such vested interest.

As if we didn't know already, we are thus informed that their job is hold the executive to account and to govern Britain, the paper concluding that: "It is time they did so".

But expecting MPs to do their jobs goes way beyond optimistic, into the realms of fantasy, where the crumbling edifice of Parliament has become a bastion of ignorance and prejudice that gives us a choice of regarding it with contempt or derision, but certainly not as a useful institution.

But also, if "Brexit and Beyond" is the best academia can produce – and the Guardian is so easily pleased – then we are wasting our time looking in those directions for our information. But then we knew this – as our blog comments indicate, with the steady growth of good quality comments offering confirmation of the information vacuum that currently exists.

The main problem with "Brexit and Beyond", however, is its limited horizon and the propensity to sit on the fence. Purporting to tell us how that UK might leave the EU, there is in fact only one substantive reference to a transitional arrangement, where the authors observe that it is not clear whether the repatriation of EU law "could be completed until the terms of the UK's future – or at least transitional - relations with the EU are settled".

To conclude, the authors then tell us that the Brexit process will test the UK's constitutional and legal frameworks and bureaucratic capacities to their limits - and possibly beyond.

With staggering frequency, we can only say to this, "no shit, Sherlock", as we see these paid academics end with what we take to be the starting point of working out an exit strategy.

With the UK having to unravel 43 years of political and economic integration, it is blindingly obvious that this is going to be a testing time. So the only value in making such a statement of the "bleedin' obvious" is then to work towards a strategy which will bring the exit process into the realms of the possible, within the capabilities of those charged with managing the process, and without over-taxing our systems.

It was that, of course, which defined our Flexcit strategy, where we very quickly realised that the two years initially allowed by Article 50 was not going to be long enough to negotiate an ambitious settlement with the EU.

Therefore, the key element in any withdrawal plan – which must transcend all else – is how we can plan an orderly exit in the time available. It is pointless, as this report does, just listing the various theoretical options available to us. To be of any value, there must also be an evaluation of what is achievable in a practical sense, from which it is then necessary to determine how this can be brought about.

Over the last month or so, we have seen a number of commentators drawn to the conclusion that the only thing that is going to work is an interim or transitional solution, to buy us time for a longer-term settlement which might take a decade or more to achieve. And with that comes the larger and more important question of what shape the end game should be.

Writing for the Political Studies Association, CEO Helena Djurkovic tells us they have "identified the need for a comprehensive, but easily comprehensible, overview of the Brexit process, which would provide a framework for all stakeholders in this momentous political development to think about its implications and the challenges ahead".

Well, we identified this need more than ten years ago, and were putting substance to it three years ago. The paid academics, though, are content in their document to help "clarify the breadth and variety of the issues involved", leaving us to do the heavy lifting, in terms of working out a strategy.

One of these days, there are going to be some people outside the immediate ambit of this blog who are going to have the courage and integrity to tell it like it is. But the Political Studies Association show no signs of doing this, leaving the growing vacuum as yet unfilled.

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