Yesterday, Philip Hammond was running the media circuit, promoting the government’s latest report on the options for Britain’s post-exit relationship with the EU. This is what the foreign secretary told Sky News:
“Nobody on the leave side has been able to show us, has been able to explain to the people of Britain, how we could even hope to be able to get access to the European market for those businesses that make up such an important part of the British economy without also having to accept freedom of movement, European rules and a contribution to the EU budget, and, frankly, if we are going to accept all of those things we may as well remain a member of the European Union and have a seat at the table, shaping the future of the European Union, rather than being a passive bystander having to accept rules we have had no influence over or input to”.
Hammond’s assertion that “nobody on the leave side” has been able to show how Britain would continue to access and participate in the Single Market without “accepting, freedom of movement, European rules or a contribution to the EU budget” is misleading. The Leave Alliance and especially the Brexit bloggers have been promoting a credible vision for Britain outside the EU, as outlined in the pages of Flexcit, for many months.
I shall not quibble over the fact that freedom of movement is not the most important part of the immigration that this government (and previous governments) have neglected to control, or the fact that the “European rules” that concern Mr Hammond are increasingly international in origin, or even the fact that payments for cross-border co-operation would not be paid into the EU budget in the event of Britain’s EU exit. I shall defer arguing over those minor technical points in order to ask, “Is that it?”
When all is said and done and the big Brexit scares have subsided, the administrative obstacles to Britain’s EU exit amount to freedom of movement within the EEA, the application of so-called EU rules and costs that, without taking into account the rebate or money returned in the form of services rendered, amount to 2.6 percent of total government expenditure? Seriously?
Inside the EU, freedom of movement would continue. This very basic point seems to be being neglected. Remainers point to possible Leave options and declare that because they retain freedom of movement the British public would never accept them. Err. Except that any scenario in which Britain remains in the EU would retain freedom of movement—unaltered. Moreover, the EFTA states that participate in the EEA agreement have a genuine “emergency brake” which can be “pulled” unilaterally, without the consent of the European Commission or any other EU institution.
The salient point about “EU rules” is that only around one fifth have Single Market relevance. That is, as an EFTA state, participating in the EEA agreement, Britain would immediately take back control of its own trade & aid, agricultural, fisheries, energy and environmental policies. Rather than accepting the compromise position of the EU28, with only nine percent of the vote in the European Parliament (voting on a simple majority) and 12.5 percent of the vote in the Council of the European Union (voting on a qualified majority), British politicians and policy-makers would be fully responsible and therefore accountable for the actions that they take. As for the remaining 21 percent of “EU rules”, those are increasingly negotiated and agreed amongst the galaxy of standards-setting bodies where every independent nation-station has a full say and its own right of reservation—and where, EU Member States, by contrast, accept EU representation.
Leaving the EU means sacrificing “influence” over EU rules for genuine policy control in all manner of important areas and a full say at the global top tables where international standards are really made.
On the issue of expenditure on co-operative programmes, I can only say what has become something of a stock phrase for this blog: international co-operation costs money.
David Cameron and the Tories have already conceded the main point—much to the chargrin of some of the europhile old guard, I am sure—about “ever closer union”. The “negotiating triumph” that Mr Cameron would like people to believe concerns the fact that from now on Britain will be uniquely excempt from “ever closer union”, which, given that the EU and the other EU Member States remain committed to “ever closer union”, does rather beg the question: Why remain in the EU? The benefits that we derive from our “special status”—outside the euro, Schengen and “ever closer union”—are things that non-EU countries take for granted. Moreover, the problems that Remainers associate with the various Leave options are EU-related—freedom of movement, EU rules and EU fees—and all would continue unaltered if Britain remains in the EU.
In answer to the question, what does Out look like? As Philip Hammond will tell you, initially, it looks a lot like EU membership, with more democratic governance, shorter lines of accountability, a less complex policy-making framework, and more say for voters and tax-payers.