If there is one word that can sum up what the British people voted for when deciding to leave the European Union, it is “divergence”.
Without it, Brexit no longer means Brexit.
What is the point in seeking to “take back control”, only to then sub-contract the drafting and oversight of regulations that govern our economic prosperity to a third party?
Even worse would be if we had no say or policing of any new laws were they to apply domestically in the UK. Nobody was asked to vote for that, and it would be absurd to end up with such an arrangement.
The new battleground in the long march towards leaving the EU is whether or not the UK should sign up to alignment with EU institutions and their rules and regulations – or if we should be able to diverge and go our own way.
It is a debate that should not be necessary, but so confused have some of our political leaders and much of the chattering classes become about how trade works that we are being suckered into thinking we either need a free trade deal with the EU, or at the very least must have “alignment” so we can still trade with it.
Trade does not require free trade agreements to happen. They might help, but they are not a prerequisite – and nor is “alignment”.
Imagine you ran a business that makes vacuum cleaners, and maybe hairdryers. The more powerful cleaners with good suction use a great deal of electricity. So too do the hairdryers that blow a gale.
Along comes the EU and says – in the name of the Paris Climate Change Accord – that your vacuum cleaner cannot suck so hard and your hairdryer cannot blow so fiercely. What are you to do?
Obviously, when making vacuums or toasters for the EU market, your products must be in “alignment” with the EU’s regulations.
This does not and should not mean all your vacuums or toasters have to meet EU specifications. In the US and China, they may not care for the Paris Accord, and prefer their Hoovers to really suck and their CHI Turbos to really blow.
To be competitive and find some comparative advantage, you will need to make the mother of all vacuums and the daddy of all hairdryers – taking into account the different or “divergent” regulations.
In other words it is divergence that allows you to align with different markets simultaneously – or just one if there is an international standard that everyone has to meet. Being aligned so you can only produce to EU “standards” leaves you at a disadvantage. To borrow an American phrase, alignment sucks – but actually, divergence sucks better.
In the broader sense, divergence also means deciding our own migration policy, setting our own taxes, choosing which agricultural subsidies to continue or abolish, and what licenses might be issued for our fishing grounds.
Most importantly, divergence means the decider of these issues is our directly elected parliament and independent judiciary – rather than an unelected bureaucracy with its foreign court and foreign judges that follow an alien jurisprudence.
Divergence is the whole point of Brexit; it is its very life, heart and soul.
That there are some members of the government’s cabinet who cannot understand that alignment is a pointless answer is beyond comprehension. Do they still write to Santa at Christmas?
By all means, let the EU travel down its road of over-regulation, subsidies, quotas, and petty diktats. But for our own prosperity, security and stubborn wish to remain British, our legislators must be free to practise divergence in the laws they pass.
That was what Brexit was all about, that is how Brexit means Brexit.