Pulling out of the EU requires decisions to be made about what tariff barriers and what rules of trade will be established with the EU and who will decide on any disputes. That is being discussed at great length. But where is the serious discussion about the rather important topic of how the UK intends to change EU policies once it "regains its sovereignty"? You'd have thought by now that we might have begun to see clear ideas emerging so that there is time to discuss and refine those ideas and pass the necessary legislation within the next 18 months. But where is the discussion?
For example the European Social Fund disappears as soon as we leave. Regional support programmes like this have actually been an area of very poor policy making by the EU where good intentions really have been undermined by seriously clumsy bureaucratic processes. It ought to be pretty easy to come up with better ways to help the regions. But there is no sign of the new policy emerging. Is anyone seriously engaged in drawing up the replacement policies and if so where is the debate about what they are proposing to do? We have heard nothing meaningful about what is intended, how much money will be spent, how it will be focused and managed, let alone where to apply and what the criteria will be. Did people really vote to pull out of the EU so that we could neglect the regions even more comprehensively?
This is not an isolated case. In policy area after policy area we don't have any firm proposals to discuss or even any signs that the government is working on the task of producing those policies. Instead all we have are a few areas where the government has promised to avoid making any decisions by announcing that things will stay the same for now. So we know that our government has decided that when it comes to agricultural subsidies nothing will be done to improve the system because that would be too controversial. Not exactly an inspiring way to start on a new era.
Yet I think it is in the third area of decision making where the wishful thinking of this government is going to do the most damage. We are supposed to be striking wonderful new free trade deals with the rest of the world. Where is the analysis of what those deals will actually entail or the preparation to cope with the new competition?
At the G20 summit Donald Trump told us all that a free trade deal between the UK and the USA would be struck very quickly and the far right celebrated because they thought that it proved them correct that the UK would soon be able to start selling much more around the world. Let's assume for a minute that Donald Trump isn't just doing his usual trick of telling the last person he meets what he thinks they want to hear. Let's assume he is right and a deal can be done quickly. Such a deal could be every bit as important as the deal that is struck with the EU. Where is the serious analysis of what it would involve?
Trade deals are very simple in theory but very complex in reality. It is as easy as pie to announce that two countries are going to sell whatever they make to each other without customs duties so that the cheapest best made product wins in the marketplace.
The difficulties arise when you start asking questions about whether the competition is an equal one. If the producers in one country apply higher standards than those in another then they are also going to encounter higher costs and that means they will be undercut by foreign competition. The UK and the US would therefore face a very simple choice. Either they harmonised standards and laws or the competition isn't equal. Areas of work as diverse as farming, car production and drug manufacture would have to work to the same standards and use the same licensing systems.
The implications of this are extreme. Either we have a race to the bottom or arrangements will have to be put in place to oversee and police the free trade deal. This could not be done by the US Congress or the UK parliament because they would obviously be biased. So who would police any free trade deal with the states? The answer is both obvious and really scary. The deal would have to be overseen by an international court. US and UK corporate lawyers would slug it out to decide whether a law passed by the UK parliament complied with the rules of the free trade deal.
Hang on a minute, I hear you saying. What about all that sovereignty we are meant to regain? What is the point in breaking free from the decision making of an EU parliament and an EU court if we then immediately lose that sovereignty to US corporate lawyers? What is to stop a US health corporation from insisting that it must be allowed to bid to deliver the NHS?
It seems to me that we are facing two very damaging impacts from a free trade deal with the US. The first is the impact of new competition. For example any free trade deal the UK strikes with the US is going to severely damage UK farmers and drive many of them out of business. Those farmers that remain are going to have to start battery farming cattle and injecting them with growth hormones. The damage to the UK countryside and to UK food security will be enormous.
But that impact will be dwarfed by the impact on our sovereignty when it comes to almost every area of economic life. A US and UK free trade deal requires economic decision making courts that are superior to the sovereign parliament of both countries. It simply isn't possible to oversee the deal any other way.
We are currently putting an immense amount of effort into freeing the UK from the control of the European super state. Something which we do at least have a degree of democratic control over. Our replacement is to be the transatlantic super state. We are taking our country out of a set of international legal controls that we understand in order to place it under a set of international legal controls that we don't.
I think that is worthy of every bit as much debate as whether we have a hard or soft Brexit. Otherwise we may end up with something very simple. It will be America first! I don't recall anyone in the UK going into the last election using that slogan!