Framing the debate

The Guardian newspaper, of all places, is today home to an “encouraging” story for the pro-independence side of the referendum debate. The boss of JCB says that Britain’s “EU exit could lift the burden bureaucracy on UK businesses”.

However, the story is not actually the “gift” that it may at first appear to be for the “eurosceptic” camp. First of all, the pro-EU newspaper is setting up a false dichotomy between EU membership and the Single Market. This is something that we can expect to see repeated time after time by europhiles during the debate. No less a figure than the Prime Minister says that Britain should trade and co-operate with our continental European allies without participating in political union. But it is never mentioned that the only way to achieve this happy end is not “reform and renegotiation” but to leave the EU and rejoin EFTA.

The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is an intergovernmental body founded by Britain, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland and Portugal in the early 1960s, to facilitate cross-border trade and work towards the elimination of tariffs between member nations. There are no associated courts and no supranational executive to arbitrate disputes and act as the final decision-maker. The body was unlike the European Economic Community (EEC), the forerunner of the EU, in all of those important respects.

Leaving the EU would not mean an end to trade and co-operation with the remaining EU member states. Indeed, there is already a formal mechanism in place for co-operation with EFTA states, called the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement. These are arrangements that EU member states already accept, so there would be little trouble for Britain, which is outside the euro and already at the periphery of the EU “projet” to bid adieu to our colleagues in Brussels and say, hi, to our friends in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

The British public need to understand that the EU is not the Single Market. The benefits that politicians associate with our EU membership are those that acrue from participation in the Single Market—and leaving the EU does not mean leaving the Single Market. Moreover, our power to influence Single Market rules will be increased outside the EU. Rather than a twelve percent qualified majority vote and the resulting imposition of rules that do not suit our interests, we will participate in decision-making at a global level and acquire equal status in setting Single Market rules via the EEA.

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