Sean Walsh believes Michael Gove’s EEA proposal is capitulation not compromise. 

Michael Gove seems to be “on manoeuvres”. And, being Michael Gove, the manoeuvres are very much of the Dad’s Army type. The former Remainer turned Leave supremo turned Chequers apologist is floating the following piece of nonsense: that we should accept an EEA arrangement as a sort of bridge-to-Brexit-proper. In other words, that we should park our disengagement from the EU tyranny in a sort of Norwegian purgatory, after which -suitably cleansed of the grubby stains and “compromises” of the last two years- we will venture forth into the promised land of actual independence. This, he moots, may well happen under the auspices of a “future UK Prime Minister”. Wink, wink.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure that things would proceed in such a benign Hegelian manner. I rather suspect that once parked in the framework of an EEA arrangement then the combined forces of the Remain Establishment might conspire to clamp the car. Permanently. And I’m also not certain that any assurances to the contrary would be all that credible. It would be rather akin to handing over a bottle of Chateau Lafitte to the safekeeping of Mr Juncker and expecting it to come back unopened. Logically possible, perhaps, but would you bet your house on it?

This, of course, is being presented as part of a strategy to avoid the chaos that would inevitably attend a no deal Brexit. We must, under all circumstances, prevent a scenario in which we crash out of the EU project. And never forget that nobody voted to be poorer. Note the way in which those who are resisting the implications of the June 2016 vote get to frame the “discussion”. It is astonishing that the losing side gets to decide the subsequent linguistic currency. This is what philosophers sometimes refer to as persuasive definition: the insistence on preferring value terms over neutral alternatives in the promotion of a particular end. Instead of chaos, no deal, crash out and nobody voted to be poorer why not simply say uncertainty, WTO terms, leave and how do you know? You’d almost suspect a conspiracy.

Let’s concede that what lies ahead of us is a period of uncertainty. And that the uncertainty in question is mainly economic. So what? Economic activity is human activity. Wealth creation is good because it is a distillation of one type of human creativity. And clearly, it operates within a context and according to certain parameters of regulation. But it will also involve uncertainty, of necessity since human agency is also rinsed in contingency. If a proper disengagement from the EU and its enabling structures (such as the customs union) has an immediate and negative economic consequence, then that is to be regretted. But the Remainer Establishment strategy is clear. It is to impose upon us a purely economic interpretation of what constitutes a country and then to conduct the debate according to a tendentious economic calculus, in which the notion of “uncertainty” is placed in the column marked “deficit”. But nations are not merely sets of economic entanglements and the relationship between the EU and the UK should not be interpreted in purely economic terms. Nations are also systems of attachments, with histories, customs and traditions of law. To say otherwise is to insist upon a sort of vulgar reductionism. Countries instantiate a moral as well as an economic idea. And to attempt to eliminate “uncertainty” from the life of a nation is to impoverish it.

Remainers claim that “what Leave means” cannot be interpreted from the mere fact that a majority voted for it, on the grounds that any evaluations of the intentions of the Leave voter are necessarily speculative. But those grounds are flimsy. The terms of our departure need make no reference to the mental processes of a composite voter, on either side. We’ve moved passed that. As I’ve argued before the shape of our departure is properly determined by the integrationist character of the EU project and its institutions. “What Leave means” needs to be interpreted by looking forward as much as back, and its logic must be given by adverting to what it is we will be leaving, and what will happen if we get that wrong. If Chequers is implemented we will not be in the position of a vassal state. We will be in the position of a lump of matter heading in the direction of a black hole. The EU is an empire founded on an incoherent view of the nature of history. Empires like that collapse. And when empires collapse they collapse suddenly and with consequences that are never pretty. Best to be as far away from that catastrophe as possible.

And I’m fairly sure that nobody thought that Leave meant paying £39 billion for the privilege of Remaining but with a reduced status.

Back to Mr Gove and his Pooterish posturing. I noticed on Sunday that he is making a perfectly reasonable point: that all of us need to be prepared to compromise. But compromise means to make a concession with reciprocity. What he is endorsing is not compromise. It is capitulation.

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