To complain that David Cameron, George Osborne and the Remain camp are scaremongering, spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt on the basis of tenuous assertions with little—sometimes no—grounding in fact is broadly akin to complaining that fish have gills which they use to breathe under water. That is what they are, that is what they do.
If nothing else, this referendum has made clear that David Cameron and George Osborne are not fit to hold the offices of state which the electorate so carelessly allowed them to occupy. That, in time, can and will be corrected. What is less certain is whether we will have another opportunity to vote on bringing power closer to the people, by leaving the EU, or pushing that power still further away, by remaining in the EU.
We knew what was coming. The core of what became The Leave Alliance spent years preparing a comprehensive transition plan for a structured EU exit. The Flexcit plan acknowledges (may have even originated) the idea that leaving the EU will be a process rather than a one-time event. We leave in the same manner that we were taken in—piece by piece, in stages.
The plan also presupposes that a successful EU exit should be the foremost political priority of the “leave” campaign and that any, indeed, every other issue, should play second fiddle to securing a majority vote in an EU referendum. Of necessity that means repudiating many of the tired old “eurosceptic” (a word that must now be retired) nostrums that have failed to arrest, let alone reverse, the ongoing process of political and judicial integration to which all EU Member States are subject.
The transition plan rejects empty aspiration and embraces pragmatic and practical political reality. It is not a contradiction that those who are amongst the most determined advocates for Brexit sound like the reasonable centre ground. We have put ourselves in that position deliberately because we know that is where we need to be in order to convince the mass of undecided referendum voters that leaving the EU is not only necessary, but also practicable, possible and safe.
The fundamental reason why Britain must leave the EU is, was and ever shall be political and not economic. As an EU Member State, policy choices which should be subject to democratic debate are taken at the supranational level. As an EU Member State, the UK is not and can never be a self-governing democracy. Simple.
We do not need common government in order to trade and co-operate with our continental allies.
Given that the only realistic immediate post-exit deal is an EFTA/EEA type arrangement (or something that broadly replicates the same structures), it is useful to look at how Norway works with the EU. Norway, a much smaller economy than the UK, is a member of the 31-member state EEA agreement, which also includes fellow EFTA members Iceland and Lichtenstein, along with the 28 EU Member States. Norway is involved in shaping EU legislation deemed “EEA relevant” and unlike EU Member States, which all accept that decisions shall be taken under Qualified Majority Voting (QMV), Norway has a right of reservation—effectively a veto—over any new regulation that it does not wish to apply in its own market. The decision to exercise that right obviously has consequences and, for reasons that are even more obvious, such an eventuality almost never arises. But, as is the perogative of a self-governing nation-state the choice is in the hands of the Norwegian government.
Norway also has full self-representation on the global bodies where most technical standards for trade now originate, not to mention independent trade, aid, energy, environmental, agricultural, fisheries, justice and home affairs, foreign affairs and defence policies. An EFTA/EEA type arrangement provides an excellent base on which to build something even better, affording us the freedom to make policies that serve the common good rather than sacrificing large swathes of people at the alter of advancing the cause of EU integration.
The British have always adopted a transactional approach to EU membership, to the chagrin of many of the other EU Member States. That is precisely why it makes so much sense to embrace this historic opportunity to reorient our relationship with the EU. Trading and co-operating with our friends on the continent, but writing legislation and making policy in Westminster and Whitehall.
If we want more democratic and more accountable government, we need to bring decision-making closer to the people, not vest it in supranational structures which empower tiny elites to impose their agendas on the rest of us.