The announcement by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) of its finalists for the €100,000 Brexit prize was made this week.
It was noteworthy for this blog as the entry by my friend Richard North, assisted by another friend, Paul Williams, regretably did not make the final six – despite producing a submission of incredible detail, that presented a solution for a post-EU Britain based upon real world dynamics, governnance and structures. You can read the submission, ‘FLEXCIT’ here.
A closer look at the entries that survived showed the authors all share a common theme, namely that Brexit should be accompanied by a formalisation of a Commonwealth free trade bloc.
What is interesting is that the original shortlist of 20 included a number of entries espousing variations of British membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) upon exit from the EU. But in whittling down the field, every single one of them has been culled, while entries pushing a Commonwealth solution, or written by people who push such a solution, have made it to the final.
The only possible explanation for this is that the judging panel have abandoned any pretence of embracing wide-ranging and innovative solutions in an open minded fashion, and instead sought to advance entries that mirror their own pre-determined viewpoints. In short, that the IEA Brexit panel are only interested in entries that reinforce and confirm their own biases, which renders the whole IEA competition worthless.
So why can the IEA no longer be considered a serious player in the Brexit debate?
Put simply, when combined with the wholesale exclusion of the overwhelmingly political dimension of a Brexit, it is that in the modern age the Commonwealth solution is no longer a realistic option.
Free trade blocs requires its members to have broadly similar standards and have similar levels of social development. The is such a difference in standards and social development between Britain and, for example, Uganda, that the notion of the Commonwealth being a suitable wrapper for a free trade bloc just doesn’t stand up.
The IEA has ignored the real world in favour of a concept that would be unworkable and costly. It has pretended the politics of Brexit are irrelevent and that economics trumps all. As such it cannot be taken seriously and any interventions it makes in the debate concerning the UK leaving the EU are likely to cause more harm than good.