Getting Brexit back on Track
They are talking negotiations when they should be talking Reform. Tony Blair has a point.
This has really been the trouble from the start - and I mean from the period BEFORE the referendum when David Cameron bust a gut trying to get some changes going both in the EU itself and in the UK relationship.
He was fatally advised, by his own officials and by bodies like the Centre for European Reform, to avoid seeking fundamental changes (see, for example, CER 8th May 'A Five Point Plan for Cameron to win an EU Referendum).
This was disastrous advice. The opposite was what was required.
Far from avoiding 'fundamentals' Cameron should have gone right to the root philosophy and root principles of the 20th century EU model .
He should have challenged from the outset the continued validity of the so-called four fundamental freedoms in the totally transformed digital age. He might ,perhaps a little harshly, have pointed out that these principles existed to a large extent only as aspirations.
He might perhaps have drawn unwelcome attention to the glaring fact that the grand principle of the free movement of people and labour was designed for a by-gone age and that with refuges and migrants pouring into the EU on a now unimaginable scale (and we have see nothing yet) the whole idea of open borders (along with UN doctrines on the treatment of refugees ) scream out for radical revision and refinement.
He might have added that while services and data flows are now forming the greater part of international commerce no real single market in services in fact existed, or exists, in Europe and that new approaches were need. He might have explained that in the age of digital technology and of dispersed computer power through blockchains the whole momentum of activity and networking development was pulling AWAY from integration, standardisation, centralisation , economies of scale harmonisation and all the other ur-philosophies and towards far more fluid and fragmented pattern of industry, trade and cooperation.
He might have added in addition that in the age of cyber attacks and hacking it is the more centralised procedures of the EU bureaucracy which make far the juiciest and most vulnerable targets.
In a Politiea pamphlet in 2014 I argued for full Treaty revision and a new framework of European co-operation, and that, without deep reform, plunging ahead into negotiation would be like negotiating with yesterday and with a past age .
No-one in Government took the slightest notice, opting instead for a shopping list of British 'demands' which duly got emasculated and in large part rejected by the Brussels diehards.
Now we learn ,as we should have perceived earlier, that all the talk of fundamental principles has long since been nudged and nuanced to meet reality. Blair may well be right that even the high EU authorities are ready to concede that the totally free movement of labour was only a pipedream and that in practice ,and in today's conditions, the need recognised by almost all member states is for selective and carefully tailored border controls in lone with EU member states' various needs and in line with entirely new conditions .
What a pity that the RU hierarchy was not pressed from the start to face the truth as a well as recognising the common sense practicality of the British position. What a pity that this was not approached as a matter for pan-European co-operation in a common European cause.
And what a pity that the current negotiations are once again being conducted in a spirit not of seeking European agreement but as a deal being fought out between protagonists.
It may indeed be too late to put the cork back in the bottle, , as Tony Blair suggests, but it may not be too late to open up, in a truly profound way, the case for massive overhaul of the whole EU structure ,its misguided integrationist direction and its underlying outdated philosophy.
The British had the intellectual firepower, the experience , the technological grasp and the diplomatic skill to contribute heavily to this way forward in Europe. But they did not use it. Europhiles refused to contemplate any serious reform of the ever closer union direction and the EU's final goals. Brexiteers insisted on walking away from what they insisted was a super-state in the making.
Both were, and remain, united in a diagnostic alliance.
But the diagnosis was wrong, is wrong and will prove increasingly wrong as the real tides of global change wash over the EU dream castle.
What we should have been doing all along, and could still seek to do, is to shape a European regional structure supple and adaptable enough to meet today's and tomorrow's network world challenges.
It's still worth a try, and to that extent ,although he comes miserably late into the debate, Tony Blair may be partially right .