Untangling 40 years of political and economic integration cannot happen overnight but it can be done in a series of measured steps. The obvious first step is to rejoin EFTA so as to continue to access the Single Market (EEA) on the same terms as today.
Yes, free movement of workers is an intrinsic part of the EEA agreement, however, even exiting to that position would allow more control over immigration than we have today—and as the first phase of a multi-stage process the EEA provides a solid platform on which to build a longer-term settlement that better suits Britain.
First of all, there are so-called “safeguard measures” in the EEA agreement. These are akin to the “emergency brake” which Cameron failed to agree as part of his renegotiation, allowing for the unilateral suspension of any of the four freedoms. Secondly, leaving the EU places responsibility for the current immigration policy squarely where it belongs—at the feet of Parliament and the UK government.
Any post-exit immigration policy would obviously need to accommodate a wide range of voices, not only leave voters, and there would be trade-offs whatever is decided. I can only think that we would see a much more constructive debate as a result.
People need to stop thinking about leaving the EU as a one-time event and understand instead that of necessity it will be a longer-term process. An EEA type deal keeps the rest of the ship steady—retaining the bits that people generally like (i.e the market)—while removing Britain from the political and judicial arrangements of a union which even Remain-minded politicians say Britain should not go further into. See Cameron’s claims about a “special status”.
Britain is not in the euro and not in Schengen and it is not going to be. “Leading in Europe” is unthinkable from such a position and the idea that the UK can “reform” the EU from a position on the periphery is a joke. Remaining at this stage would mean accepting the EU as our interface to the rest of the world even while being marginalised as the eurozone integrates still further (as it must). That really would be “isolating” ourselves and turning our back on the world.
Better to let those countries that want to integrate do so while we step into the second pillar of the two-pillar EEA agreement, EFTA, which is genuinely all about trade, as the EU is still (mostly) being sold to people.
The fact that almost the entire referendum debate has centred on what our future trading arrangement would be—even though the EU is an avowedly political organisation with competency across a vast array of policy areas—is part of the same delusion British politicians have perpetuated since the UK first sought to join the then European Economic Community (EEC). Nowhere else on the continent is this level of deception and self-deception indulged. The EU is not a trade bloc, it is a government, and it is one that, in my view, we do not need nor want.
There is an enormous amount of work to be done to rediscover the art of democratic self-governance. More than almost anybody seems to realise. But I see leaving the EU as an enormously exciting opportunity to reinvigorate our domestic politics and to re-engage with the rest of the world as Britain.
The first practical and pragmatic step, however, is to concede the point on freedom of movement, which is not the same as an “open door”. That is the price the EU will demand for securing our trouble free exit and it is also the only kind of deal that our Remain-centric Parliament will accept. It returns policy control in the areas of trade, aid, energy, the environment, agriculture and fisheries, removes Britain from the jurisdiction of the ECJ, and causes minimal disruption for both sides. That is more than enough to be going on with for the time being.
A process, not an event. That is the key. The EEA is the door. We were taken into the EU one step at a time, we will recover our independence in equally measured steps. Do you want to take that first step?
Vote to leave.