image of jerusalem 2016

The EU & Aesop’s Fable of the Tortoise & the Hare!
The Aesopica is a collection of fables credited to Aesop, a slave and storyteller, who is believed to have lived in ancient Greece.

15 October   |   2016   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

One of my favourite stories is that of the tortoise and the hare who decide to race one day. The hare is so confident in his lead that he naps while the tortoise trudges along. But surprisingly, the slow and steady tortoise wins the race since it is not always the swift who hold the advantage!

Some of the readers might ponder about the relevance of this story to our ongoing Brexit saga here in the UK. Well, it sprang to mind when I learnt that PM Theresa May had decided to invoke Article 50 - which would start the two-year countdown toward an agreement between the UK and the EU - before end-March 2017.

But do we have any more clarity on substance today than we did yesterday? After all, we had already been told that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ just like parents tell their children that ‘bedtime means bedtime’. However, I am afraid that I am still not very much clearer on the practical portent for us of this gigantic constitutional step we are ostensibly embarking upon within 6 months - us of course being the men and women on the Clapham omnibus.

So much as my thoughts remain befuddled, let me look at the way we are trying to decouple ourselves from the EU institutions that have been part of our reality since we went into the old-style economic EEC 44 years ago.

  • If I were to take the prime minister’s words at the Tory Conference in Birmingham at face value, it seems quite clear to me that we are veering toward a so-called ‘hard’ Brexit as a strategic direction - a term, when disinvested of its nostalgia or sensationalism - simply means that we will refuse to budge or compromise on the free movement of persons in return for staying part of the tariff-free Single Market. In other words, we would not emulate Norway or Switzerland or Liechtenstein but forge a novel relationship with the EU as a fully sovereign country So if this is indeed the mood music coming out of 10 Downing Street, does it mean - as some enterprises suggest - that we are gambling with our economy?
  • If the prime minister prioritises immigration curbs over the Single Market, what happens to businesses and investment? Will they slow down, as we lose our banking, passporting and even equivalence rights? What about workers’ rights? What about our trading with one of the biggest markets worldwide? And perhaps even what about our future relations with Scotland?
  • This week, 3 judges in the High Court presided by LCJ Lord Thomas will consider whether Parliament (which is sovereign) or the Prime Minister (by using her Royal prerogative} will deploy Article 50. No matter the judgment, this case will also go all the way to the Supreme Court, and I suspect the final decision will be delivered on either side of Christmas - in other words, well before the Prime Minister’s stated deadline. A similar lawsuit is being considered in Northern Ireland by some nationalist parties. I am uneasy at the hare-like haste - and more so the confident zeal that usually comes with converts - with which we seem to be moving forward in our fervour to prove that we are a self-governing island.
  • The stakes are very high and the level of substance-free grandstanding by “the 3 Brexiteers” for popular or ideological purposes is not necessarily the way forward. I agree fully that we should abide by the wish of the 52% in the referendum who were Leavers, but do we need to cut off our noses in order to spite our faces? Do we not need to seek a process that respects the outcome of the referendum without backfiring on our own interests? The direction of the divorce between the UK & the EU remains foggy, and we should perhaps listen more to constitutional experts and less to politicians.
  • The Great Repeal Bill once enacted will scrap the European Communities Act 1972, devolve all EU-linked laws and transfer them into British law. In other words, Parliament could remove or edit unwanted laws later, but Brexit for now will mean that up to 13,000 EU regulations will stop being Brussels-based and will become enshrined in UK law. So what happens next: do we simply appropriate them as our laws or do we rewrite every single regulation? Do we in the process also risk defeating the purpose of the Bill by simply altering the labels but not the substance?
  • I also realise there are parliamentary elections in Germany and presidential elections in France in 2017. Given the uncertain political stakes in both countries and the difficulties faced both by Angela Merkel and François Hollande, what sort of negotiations could be had when both those countries would be in an uncompromising and unhappy mood in order to woo their own electorate? The question is whether it is in our interest or that of Brussels to trigger Article 50 now?
  • Let me allow myself a sigh of regret! Much as I regretted our decision to leave the EU, I am equally aware that the EU of 28 had also become a dysfunctional and over-bureaucratised set of institutions that are desperately - at times ineptly - seeking to hold the strands together. From foreign policy issues to refugees, the EU is not much more potent than the UN today as it battles with a babel of policies. Were it that both the UK and the EU had decided to stay together in order to repair the creeping political mould from within rather than bailing out.

Back to the moral of my fable! Exiting we surely are, but it would be helpful if our Government were to approach Brexit with the wisdom, diligence and prudence that are British historical characteristics, rather than in a gung-ho manner that pines for a non-globalised (in the Eurocentric sense) and admittedly nostalgic past.

The tortoise: 1. The hare: 0.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2016   |   15 October


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