The “Flying Horse” Fallacy

There is no getting around it, leaving the EU is complicated. Those who wish to deny the complexity involved in decoupling British institutions from 40 years of political and economic integration are either fools or knaves.

Why then, one has to ask, are there so many Brexiteers—that is, those who are committed to leaving the EU—who insist upon raising what is already an extraordinarily high bar still higher?

The most common culprits are what might politely be called “UKIP-types”, who insist that Britain’s high-levels of inward migration be addressed on day one, immediately post-Brexit.

These people are falling foul of several fallacies: firstly, the majority of immigrants are not arriving as a result of any “freedom of movement” provisions seeing as they travel to Britain from non-EEA states; secondly, these “UKIP-types” are implicitly invoking what Dr Richard North has dubbed the “better deal” fallacy, which assumes that Britain would be able to negotiate equal Single Market access to existing EU Member States without accepting “freedom of movement” provisions.

Whether this is desireable is less relevant than the fact that it is not achievable. The EU will not negotiate a “better deal” with Britain as part of the Article 50 Brexit agreement. The best that Britain can expect in terms of Single Market access is essentially (though not exactly) the “same deal” that currently pertains—and we should take it, not because it is ideal, but because the real prize is leaving the EU and putting the country back on the path to full global engagement and independent self-government.

However, there is yet another fallacy from which Brexiteers should refrain and that is what I will call the “flying horse” fallacy. The fallacy is patterned after a characteristically apposite remark from The Boiling Frog, explaining why Brexit is necessarily a structured process: In a horse race, the jockies jump each fence one at a time. This is challenging. It requires training, discipline and skill. But, if the fences are stacked one on top of the other, the only way to make the jump is with a flying horse.

By emphasising the idea that Brexit should immediately address issues such as immigration or energy or climate change policy, Brexiteers are in effect stacking the fences one on top of the other and in so doing creating the demand for a flying horse. I shall attempt to apply the discipline that I recommend here and—at least as part of this blog—refrain from expressing distinct views regarding these issues during the referendum debate. Britain’s EU membership is, at its heart, a constitutional issue that asks the fundamental question: Who governs Britain? Other issues, even those as important as immigration, are secondary.

The British people cannot take control of the policy-making framework without first making it abundantly clear to the government, the politicians and the legacy media, along with their fellow countrymen and countrywomen, that supranational (“above the nation”) EU governance is fundamentally unacceptable for Britain—and always will be.

Contrary to those who say that the “sunlit uplands” then await, a successful vote to leave the EU will be when the real work will begin. Post-Brexit we will need to rebuild the policy-making framework in order that governmental action in a wide range of policy areas presently designated “EU competencies” are brought under the control of the British people and become part of the “national conversation” once again. This, among other reasons, is why Brexit should be thought of not as an event but as a process—not Brexit but Flexcit—that can be taken one pragmatic step at a time.

5 thoughts on “The “Flying Horse” Fallacy

  1. Robert Oulds, Director of the Bruges Group, wrote an interesting short note on the immigration controls which EEA states can impose unilaterally when it is causing them severe social and economic problems. A copy has been posted in the articles section of

    Liechtenstein has been doing this for some time and Iceland was able to impose exchange controls in the wake of its financial,crisis, thus blocking free movement of capital.

    Both policies were decided unilaterally without asking anyone’s permission. Neither option is open
    EU member states which would be whipped into line by the European Court of Justice. EEA states are beyond it jurisdiction


  2. “The EU will not negotiate a “better deal” with Britain as part of the Article 50 Brexit agreement. The best that Britain can expect in terms of Single Market access is essentially (though not exactly) the “same deal” that currently pertains—and we should take it…”

    With the greatest respect, Lost, your statement makes no logical sense. Setting aside whatever evidence you base your assertions on, the OED itself defines to “negotiate” as to “try to reach an agreement or compromise by discussion”. So, to enter into this form of discussion is to pre-acknowledge that no existing agreement or compromise is acceptable (to one or to both parties). Just as the fact of offering this discussion in the first place anticipates the need for an agreement – or “deal” – better than whatever is currently available (for which, of course, no negotiation at all is necessary).

    Your statement would only make logic sense if presented as, “The EU will not negotiate with Britain as part of the Article 50 Brexit agreement”. But then the statement would directly contradict what the EU itself is saying it will do.

    I think what we have here is the very nub what makes Flexcit a failed thesis. Like your statement, Flexcit acknowledges the negotiation process, before then setting out a number of complex steps which would only have relevance to a UK withdrawal if that negotiation process didn’t exist (or in the highly unlikely event that negotiations completely failed). In other words, Flexcit is an exit plan built for an EU which has no Article 50 in its current treaty… an EU which simply doesn’t exist.

    And Britain, of course, will enter those negotiations not ’empty-handed’… but armed with a very firm and most constitutionally reasonable (if short) set of conditions for its future participation a mutually acceptable relationship with the EU. It’s none of Britain’s business what changes the EU may or may not have to make if it wishes to have that relationship… and avoid the immense damage it will inflict upon itself by declining to have it.

    That is the nature of all negotiation.


    • There are two strands to this. The Flexcit plan, to my way of thinking, is not definitive. It is, however, the most comprehensive exit plan that exists and, to that end, it has two roles. The first is to provide a baseline for the British government regarding what the British people will expect from the subsequent negotiations, which, regrettable as you or I may find the matter, will (I do not think it is unreasonable to suppose) be undertaken by a government that is (shall we say) “reluctant” to take even the administratively small but constitutionally enormous step of ending Britain’s EU membership. That is the political reality of the situation in which we find ourselves, as a people and as a country, today.

      The second role of the Flexcit plan, I think, is to address the political reality that there is (as of today) a very significant proportion of the British electorate who do not feel particularly strongly about the EU issue—for the sake of clarity, I regard it as the most important issue in British politics, without resolution of which Britain does not really have any domestic (or more especially democratic) politics worth the name—and it will be essential to bring large numbers of these people with us if we hope to leave the EU via the mechanism of a referendum followed by an Article 50 negotiated exit.

      I do not think that Flexcit is disregarding the idea that the negotiated settlement that Britain agrees with the EU will be negotiated so much as acknowledging that in order to leave the EU, the Leavers will need to provide maximal reassurance to British voters and continental colleagues that the procedure will be amicable and minimally disruptive. An EFTA/EEA organisation with the power and influence of Great Britain would be a very different beast when it comes to co-operation with the remaining EU Member States and, crucially, the overwhelming majority of the policy-making framework that this county has surrendered to the supranational EU will become a matter for national decision-making, discussion and debate once we leave the EU.


      • “there is (as of today) a very significant proportion of the British electorate who do not feel particularly strongly about the EU issue”

        This is something we very much agree upon. In my opinion, tactically, the two vital factors that will convince the electorate to cast a vote for ‘Leave’ are:
        A) That doing so is totally risk-free. That they have nothing at all to lose (and much to gain) because if they don’t like the resulting negotiated agreement, they can vote it down in the mandatory second “lock” referendum and continue with current EU membership.

        B) That the desired goal of withdrawal is simply expressed and easily digested: “To return sovereignty (including border control) whilst protecting trade” – and that this is all the two year negotiation period (triggered by a ‘Leave’ majority) will seek to do.

        Now we can anticipate and respond to how the ‘Remain’ campaign will try to attack this position (with the undecided electorate looking on).

        Attack: But the EU will never agree to that.
        Response: If the EU wishes a mutually beneficial future relationship with an independent Britain, these are the stipulations upon which it must be built. As the world can see, these stipulations are wholly reasonable for a nation state and we expect the EU to be wholly reasonable in meeting them.

        Attack: But it’s not the Norway or Swiss options the EU accept.
        Response: The EU recognises the purpose of negotiation is to reach an agreement where no satisfactory option currently exists. That is the sole function of the Article 50 negotiations the EU offers to a withdrawing State.

        Attack: But what about the EU’s ‘XYZ’ rule – that is set in stone, even for non-member European countries the EU trades with. Give exact details of how you get around that.
        Response: It’s not for Britain to concern itself with the EU’s internal arrangements. Again, if the EU wishes a mutually beneficial and prosperous future relationship with an independent Britain, it will remove whatever obstacles it may have to arranging that relationship. [rinse and repeat for the many variants of this attack the Remain camp will use in trying to divert the debate onto its favoured territory for confusing/alarming the onlooking electorate, whilst making itself appear responsible and authoritative]

        Attack: But the EU will just tell Britain to get lost!
        Response: There are many millions of people throughout Europe whose livelihoods very much depend upon the EU not telling Britain to get lost in response to these wholly reasonable demands.

        Attack: But it can never be done in two years.
        Response: If there’s just fifty UK negotiators at the table, that’s a quarter of a million man-hours of discussion over that period. Both parties will (for their own reasons) be highly motivated to get this event concluded rapidly and decisively and to move forward.


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