As the timelines of social media come to terms with the vote to Leave the EU: the unleashed poisons of public racism, the plunging pound, the political drift of leaderless parties, the tension within the UK or between young and old; there has been one reason given why all this might be worth it: the regaining of our national sovereignty.
Here, at last, is a chance to rid ourselves of stupid laws on straight bananas (actually we didn’t have to, the EU had already done that for us) and the correct type of soft-play sand. Taking back control means we now have a say in the kind of landing our children get at the bottom of a slide – they can land amongst soft, welcoming British grains. No more will we inflict on them the stinging rash of harsh, scourging, Continental grit.
Except now, who can be bothered, who has the time to think about sand or bananas, wouldn’t it just be easier to have said “we’ll have whatever that lot decided”? Maybe European sand was reasonably cushioning in the first place. The British toddler needs no special provision. Did we tell ourselves we were chasing after sovereignty, when really all we’ve got is a whole bunch of choices we don’t have the time or energy to worry about. In the UK-EU marriage, was she the bride sorting out the flowers, the dresses and the table favours, when all we really cared about was making sure there was creme brûlée at the meal. Whilst we were throwing a tantrum about wanting to take back control, turns out our self-obsessed shrieking might have deafened us to our her soothing reassurances: “But darling, dessert was always down to you.”
The whole question of sovereignty was at the heart of the biggest piece of research ever undertaken by the British Civil Service: the prosaically named “Balance of Competences Review”. This massive 32 volume work remained impenetrably large, no one ever wrote a summary. According to the House of Lords this obscurity was deliberate: the government buried the review because it didn’t like its findings: that there was no excessive interference in UK life from Brussels.
Phillip Hunt did attempt his own summary: astoundingly he suggested that the review was full of examples where reform was needed, and the need for less EU regulation was a recurrent theme. I guess in 32 volumes, there will have been a few suggestions for reform, but the dominant theme was that things “are about right”. For an academic review of the whole report, check out “Britain’s Future in Europe“.
In short, the Balance of Competencies said something like this:
There are areas where we have given EU control, and frankly we’re pretty keen they keep it: Single Market, Free movement of goods (thanks to mutual recognition standards led by Britain’s Lord Cockfield), services and capital, competition policy, external trade.
There are areas where we didn’t give the EU control and they seemed pretty happy to get on with things themselves: Customs (Schengen agreement), Eurozone.
There are areas where the EU has a bit of authority, we have a bit, and we continually work at getting the balance right (“Shared Competency”). Not for first time you discover the Brits had been at the heart of all this: Transport, Energy, Environment and Climate, Food safety, Digitial Information Rights, Public Health, Taxation, Tourism (UK big driver), Education (Research and Erasmus), Civil Justice and Policing (UK has opt-outs but often chooses to opt-in), Development and Foreign Policy (strong support for extra leverage gained from being in EU).
There was controversy on freedom of movement and the social chapter, but even there the majority view was that things were okay (for a counter to that, check out a non-xenophobic critique of freedom of movement here.)
However the recurrent theme was “things are okay… We’ve been at this a few years now and we’re getting a handle on what works.” All this hysteria about regulations and suffocating red tape, was utter nonsense. It was a confected myth. As with so many claims of the Leave campaign, they all started to disappear when you looked at the facts. There was no £350m weekly payment, no laws coming at us that we didn’t really want. No wonder that Professor of European Law, Michael Dougan, has accused the Leave campaign of telling lies on an industrial scale.
All the pain we’re about to go through, is for a prize not worth having: next time we get married, we’re going to have to sort out all the flowers and table decorations ourselves.