Richard North, 12/10/2018  

"Brexitism" – a term I have not seen used before – is, according Sir Ivan Rogers, a revolutionary movement seeking a genuine rupture with the ancien regime.

He was speaking at Cambridge University, delivering another of his occasional and very informative lectures. But, to do it justice, today I'm just going to look at one part of the lecture. This explores the emerging revolution, where Sir Ivan tells his audience that the revolution is entirely separate from the 52 percent of the public who thought they were voting for Brexit.

For sure, the public had multiple grievances with the ancien regime, many of which were very well warranted and which had been building for many years. They hoped Brexit might help provide some answers - or at least felt Brexit could not make things any worse than they already were.

But the other Brexit, the revolutionary movement, is an elites project for a regime change, led primarily by entirely establishment figures, often masquerading as non-establishment ones, and what those people believed Brexit was about.

Those who drove (and are driving) Brexit politically are clearly not seeking incremental change, says Sir Ivan. Most wanted, and want, a radically different UK, and some want a radically different - or even, no - EU. There was never a version of the EU to which the other 27 could have agreed with which the bulk of the leading advocates of Brexit could have been content.

In Sir Ivan's narrative, the world started to go wrong for the revolutionaries when we joined the old EEC in 1973 and got even worse post the fall of the Berlin Wall – the point at which many of them concluded that the EU was inexorably becoming a single, federal state, from which it was urgent to liberate ourselves.

Certainly, it was about that time that the Eurosceptic movement emerged from its doldrums, energised by the battle over the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. This saw the emergence of what was to become UKIP and the growth of a permanent anti-EU caucus in the Conservative Party.

For them, in the post-Lisbon environment, David Cameron's style of outer tier membership was never going to be enough, whatever he had negotiated. They wanted a radical reconsideration and loosening of the EU project as a whole. And there was the making of confrontation. It was inconceivable the other 27 would, in 2016, have agreed the Treaty changes to permit.

The second driver, says Sir Ivan, was an abhorrence of any supranational sharing or pooling of sovereignty. This sustains a belief that powers passed to that level are sovereignty surrendered, which needs to be recaptured and resumed at national level. The international order should be essentially purely intergovernmental, involving treaties concluded and commitments made between sovereign nations.

Sir Ivan concedes that the entire legal order of the EU is unique and sui generis in the international legal order. He just draws other conclusions from this about how easy it is to exit from it, and then live next to it. But whatever the conclusions, the EU is basically anathema to Brexit advocates. It's a wrong turn in the Western world.

Thirdly – and this is peculiar to what I would call the "ultras" and their fellow travellers - they wanted, and want, a radical and rapid rupture. The "honourable exceptions", says Sir Ivan, were essentially ignored by the majority of the Brexit lobby.

The reason, of course, is that we – I and the many supporters of the Leave Alliance point of view – have been posing inconvenient questions. Even worse, we have been focusing on the process by which one might extricate oneself, with as minimal transitional damage as possible, from a huge number of legal, institutional and regulatory arrangements which had become central to the operation of the British State.

Thus, Sir Ivan speaks of "the curious paradox" of those who believe that the EU had inserted itself into virtually every nook and cranny of the country's social and economic life - a proposition with which he would also rather agree. Yet these same people believe that all these strings could be cut extremely rapidly, and that nothing would go awry for the UK.

It might have been appropriate at this juncture to quote from Lord Denning's famous 1974 judgement when he observed of the Treaty of Rome, that it "is like an incoming tide. It flows into the estuaries and up the rivers. It cannot be held back…".

For all that, this belief in the ability rapidly to cut our ties survives despite the obvious fact that the UK's very immersion in these structures meant its own State's capacity to resume sovereignty in areas where it had been pooled, has been much diminished across large tracts of the economy now regulated supranationally.

It continues despite the fact that the current operation of the UK economy, both in manufacturing and in services, is heavily predicated on membership of both the Single Market and the Customs Union, and what each had done, however imperfectly, over decades to facilitate trade and investment flows across what used to be hard, now internal, borders of a Common Market.

Says Sir Ivan, we live, and have lived for some time, in a comprehensive regulatory union, but despite wanting to leave it, we struggle at political level to understand what that means.

For the revolutionaries, this is all written off as the preoccupations of ghastly incumbent multinational CEOs, who themselves, we are told regularly, do not understand their own businesses’ business models as well as the gurus of the revolution. And therefore need, like their trade federations, to be ignored and/or replaced, presumably by corporate titans who spontaneously align with the revolution.

This, Sir Ivan observes, sounds rather more like Mussolini style corporatism than it does the free market economics to which we are told the revolution is wedded.

Before he quit the Civil Service, Sir Ivan was dealing day by day with senior cabinet ministers, many of whom were and still are central players in the current Brexit process.

They were arguing that the "trade deal with the EU" had to be negotiated, agreed and ratified BEFORE we left and in operation the day after legal exit. Furthermore, we had to have a plethora of new trade deals with other global players in force as well.

Plenty of such lofty promises to that effect were made in the referendum campaign of course. And, says Sir Ivan, they were, and have been proven, total fantasy.

The reality is that the maximum that could be agreed pre-departure, alongside the only legally binding document there will be – the Withdrawal Agreement, covering money, citizens' rights and the Irish border issue - is a thin, largely aspirational, but hopefully useful, political framework for the huge economic negotiation which can only happen after exit.

Yet, to say any of this in 2016 was clearly deemed gloomy, defeatist talk indicating counter-revolutionary intent. In reality, as is clear 28 months after the referendum, this "defeatist talk" was stating the obvious about the complexity and longevity of the exit process. Equally, it was stating the obvious to point out when the trade negotiation could even BEGIN – 2019 – let alone end.

Therefore, it always was inevitable, if we were to get the best conceivable Brexit outcome for the UK, that we would need a really protracted transition before we reached the post Brexit destination.

To that must be added the further obvious truth that the EU would not expend effort on negotiating a full, bespoke transition AS WELL AS the end state. "Why would they?", asks Sir Ivan. One therefore needed an off-the-shelf transition arrangement to swing into force next year.

Finally, Sir Ivan observed that the business of negotiating free trade deals worth having with the other strategic players in world trade would also take very many years. The negotiations would be highly uncertain in outcome and would see those partners wanting real clarity in our new relationship with the EU before they could be sure what they wanted in a deal with us.

Furthermore, they would have to be preceded by the major work to prevent UK trading arrangements worsening on exit day via our slipping out of the EU's network of existing preferential deals, which is larger than any other player's on the planet.

And, for this post, this is as far as I go. I'll pick up more of the speech tomorrow and develop the themes. It was important, here, just to focus on the elements raised. At this juncture, we should recall that there were people who knew, right from the outset, what had to be done and what was involved.

Sir Ivan is right to identify the establishment "revolutionaries". They are the wreckers. And, as Pete points out, they're still at it. They are still attempting to demolish the only workable option we have – the only one we've ever really had. And it is no accident that this is happening.

But, even if the "revolutionaries" have their own agendas, as we head towards 2019, says Sir Ivan, sobriety is gradually setting in. More of that tomorrow.

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