Wednesday 30 March 2016

Changing the arguments

The former Cabinet Secretary has today challenged the idea that the UK could effectively negotiate its way out of the EU and into a series of new treaties and agreements within the two years noted in the EU treaties for the departure of a member state.  The points he makes seem reasonable to me, although the suggestion that it could take as long as 10 years seems a bit excessive.  Given that no member state has ever left in the past, there is no precedent on which to base a judgement as to where within that range of 2 to 10 years the actual timescale would lie.
In any case, and regardless of the context in which the comments have been placed, it doesn’t look like an argument either for or against exit to me.  Whilst in general terms ending any period of certainty as soon as possible by a rapid series of negotiations would be in the best interests of all concerned, there can be little doubt that the negotiations would be complex and lengthy in practice as all concerned sought to get them ‘right’ from their perspective.
What also struck me in the piece, though, was the comparison with Greenland.  The situation of Greenland as a small country was a good deal more straightforward, but it still took some three years between a vote to leave and the actual departure. 
The situation of Greenland, in this context, is interesting from another aspect as well.  It actually voted to leave the EU and still it took three years to negotiate its way to the exit.
Contrast that with, for instance, the position of Scotland or Catalonia.  In both cases, we are told by opponents of independence that any decision to become independent would instantly leave them outside the EU even if they specifically indicated as part of the independence referendum that they wanted to remain, and that they would have to spend many years negotiating re-admission. 
It’s not an exact parallel of course; Greenland remains formally part of Denmark despite being on a trajectory to an increasing degree of home rule, whereas in Scotland or Catalonia the people would be voting to leave an existing member state.  But there’s enough of a parallel to ask why a country voting for more home rule which asks to leave the EU gets three years to negotiate an orderly exit whereas a country voting for independence which wants to remain would, apparently, be booted out immediately.
The ‘explanation’ for this inconsistency lies in political messaging and scaremongering, not in the cool hard assessment of reality which is what would actually happen.  The ‘arguments’ put forward depend more on the point that the politicians are trying to ‘prove’ at the time than on hard fact.

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