At the moment, the UK is 100% compliant with EU rules on everything, probably unlike some EU countries (France, anyone?).
If we get BRINO, that is our future. Taxation without representation, not that having MEPs in the EU parliament could really be called representation anyway. And continued dynamic alignment with all EU rules, so that when they rule that all new cars must be equipped with a nine-sided nut, and then only licence firms in the EU27 countries to make said nut, we will have agreed to go along with the destruction of yet another UK manufacturing sector.
But just suppose that we do get a clean Brexit, or something of that order. At some stage, someone in the UK will have to take a decision that diverges from the EU rules. This will be a big thing, and it won’t be some EO or even HEO in the Civil Service that approves it. No, this one will be kicked upstairs all the way to Downing Street. For this one, Boris will need one of the signs that Harry S Truman had on his desk, ‘the buck stops here’.
We know that the Remain lobby are reforming into the Rejoin lobby. There will be a big battle over the first divergence.
Whatever the divergence is, it will be claimed that it will cause all sorts of ills and evils, from the resurgence of terrorism in Northern Ireland to the exit from the UK of large parts of the manufacturing sector. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of an imminent plague of locusts. The shrieking on the airwaves will be audible from Pluto. The Rejoiners will know that when it happens and the sky doesn’t fall in, the cat will be out of the bag and it will be indisputable that we can prosper outside the EU.
If I ruled the world, or the UK anyway, I would be actively looking for an opportunity to select our point of divergence. It could be some daft edict from the EU that is laughable in its regulatory overreach – olive oil on restaurant tables, for example (1). Or it could be something that the UK provokes deliberately. That would be my choice. Better to fight on ground of your own choosing than that of your opponents.
Remember the Yes Minister sketch about the Emulsified High-Fat Offal Tube? Very funny, but uncomfortably near the bone today. After all, there was a move to require UK chocolate to be labelled as ‘chocolate substitute’ and it took thirty years for that particular chimera to be put to bed. (2)
I would look for something that is patently daft, and which affects daily life in such a way that the impact is immediately obvious to Everyman.
My suggestions would be milk or beer.
For example, how would it be if an obscure EU committee ruled that all milk had to be either sterilised or UHT pasteurised before sale to the consumer. For food hygiene purposes, of course. Both are acquired tastes, to say the least, and the impact on the British cuppa would galvanise public opinion in favour of departing from the thoughtless edicts emanating from Brussels.
Or beer. Suppose the EU were to mandate a longer fermentation period for beer, ostensibly to improve quality of the product. And if they were to apply rules requiring lower temperature fermentation, to reduce the energy consumption of the process.
Voila! You have lager, and UK brewers and drinkers would lose a staple of everyday life, the pint of beer. I can see that causing a few ripples!
Neither, as far as I know, is on the EU’s agenda. I hope they are both fantasies. But the point remains – to achieve that first divergence, Boris will need something that will catch the imagination outside the Westminster and media bubbles. Who knows what it will be? But if I were Boris, or Dominic, I’d have some Bright Young Things reading the detail of the Brussels edicts that are on the way, looking for that opportunity.
© Jim Walshe 2020
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file