Brexit - Sleepwalking into a major crisis

British Companies all US listings

Brexit - Sleepwalking into a major crisis

Disheveled, with contrived smiles, some UK politicians could be remembered in later years as the gargoyles of Notre Dame, cast in stone for eternity

Gargoyle at Notre Dame
Gargoyle at Notre Dame

But the contributions of distinguished British civil servants start to reshape the debate surrounding Brexit in the UK, as expert comments sidestep the attention-seeking, scandal-du-jour pandering broadsheets

Sir Ian Rogers, former Permanent Representative of the UK to the European Union, may disavow the political implications of his lectures, at Hertford College, Oxford in November ’17 and at the University of Glasgow in May ’18. However, his observations and the narrow path out of a muddled relationship he is suggesting are anything but …

To prove our point, we will not summarize Sir Rogers’ latest opus – every one of his arguments is worth pondering and an abstract would spoil the broth…

We prefer to go directly to the crux of the misunderstanding regarding globalization, the cause of profound unease of some and of outright rejection by many – precisely those voters from ‘somewhere’ who expressed their displeasure by voting to ‘leave’ the European Union

Quoting Sir Rogers on data protection

Since the referendum, the penny has seemingly dropped in Government that autonomy/sovereignty in this domain is, to put it mildly, highly constrained. The reality – not one I welcome, but businesses have to deal with the world as it is, not build castles in the air – is that three discrepant data realms are developing in data protection and privacy – a US one, a Chinese one and an EU one

This is true of privacy regulations – but the comment can and should be drawn much further, touching every part of our lives, from the food we eat to the way we transact with one another, to the protection we expect for security and defense and to every aspect of international business as well

Unless we retire in a self-sufficient community in Yorkshire or in Thoreau’s Cabin – and even so…. – we rely on a legal framework and this legal system today is a shared endeavor between nations, under the all-encompassing umbrellas of super-organizations. A fact of life, really…whatever one may think of globalization

Walden Thoreau cabin
Walden Thoreau cabin

The US and China are running this reality essentially – and unsurprisingly – to their own benefit while the European Union is the product of a balancing act of sovereign states build on compromise, creating a counterweight to the overweening outreach of US and, before long, of China

Quoting the very literate and remarkable first ruling of the German Constitutional Court on what was then the European Economic Community, after Sir Rogers

The Community is not a state, not even a federal state. Rather, it is a community of a special nature in the process of ever closer integration… A new public authority has thereby been created which is autonomous and independent vis-a-vis the public authorities of each Member State. Consequently its acts do not require approval or ratification by the Member States, and cannot be annulled by them.

Discussing the nature of legal frameworks, Sir Rogers brings to the fore the plain fact that, when applied to the EU, you are either in – or you are out. In-between is not a status…

This is true of any contract between individuals and it is true of formal agreements between countries except for one crucial difference in the EU - a distinctive and very unusual feature in agreements between sovereign nations – a feature allowing European affairs to run smoothly – a feature to which Sir Rogers contributed personally in spades as anyone involved in Brussels will have known – that feature is mutual trust, leaving a margin of flexibility to all within the common framework

(Interestingly, the fraught relations with newly minted EU East European members may well come back precisely to the fact that the long and tortuous trust-building exercise was wistfully ignored – with hindsight, a clear example of EU overreach)

It may all end very badly

Possibly, the very politicians responsible for burning to the ground the hopes and the expectations of the forgotten majority of ‘somewhere’ will end up as salt statues staring forlornly at the economic carnage they wrought (Genesis, 19)

But, cautiously hinting at an approach which is anything but apolitical, Sir Rogers sees political capital and leverage in the ‘fourth’ fundamental freedom of the Single Market, the free movement of people

By nature or by well-worn experience of EU negotiations, Sir Rogers does not stress the fact that free movement is applied – and ignored – in many creative ways by EU members – leverage indeed which opens a boulevard of mutual understanding and the subject of a follow-up report

References to Sir Ian Rogers' lectures

November 2017

May 2018