Beyond EEA

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With the legacy media finally turning its attention to the realities of Brexit—even Newsnight is now name-checking Flexcit—now seems like a good time to look again at the great vistas of opportunity that await a post-exit Britain.

First of all though, one has to address the “criticism”—if one can really call shouting, stamping of feet and pulling of hair critique—that adopting a phased approach to EU exit has ellicited from a portion of the legacy media and the oh-so-tedious legacy campaigns.

It scarcely needs saying, but the Remainers’ feigned concern for the most belligerent voices in the “leave” camp is beyond cynical. The same people who have spent weeks, months, even years, verbally abusing anybody who has expressed the view that immigration is a bit high are now saying that it would be a “betrayal” for the UK government, supported by the House of Commons, to insist upon using the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement as a staging post for disengaging from the EU’s political and judicial union without any of the economic after effects that David Cameron and George Osborne have so irresponsibly exaggerated. Give me a break.

The hysterical reaction of Vote Leave and its associated sycophants is particularly loathsome. That organisation has done everything in its power to prevent the idea of a pragmatic, practical and non-hostile Brexit plan, which addresses the political realities as we find them not as we might like them to be, from taking hold in the public imagination.

In fact, it was not so very long ago that Vote Leave and the MPs and MEPs who support its campaign were saying that what leave looks like would be a matter for the UK government to decide. Moreover, Vote Leave principal Daniel Hannan has said and wrote on more than one occasion that he would be happy if a “vote to leave” resulted in another negotiation, “proper concessions” and “associate membership”. The screams of “betrayal” were non-existent when that was the Vote Leave line.

What it is reported that some MPs are now considering is nothing like as objectionable as the earlier Vote Leave stance. It is in fact what we would expect and would be as good an example as I can recall of Parliament doing what it is there to do in protecting the interests of the British people.

Leaving the EU but remaining in the Single Market—at least over the short- to medium-term—is not only sensible but essential. When you are recovering from a long bout of illness, you do not head out the door on a 10 mile run the moment that you are able to hold your head upright. By remaining part of the EEA, with a transitional agreement on fisheries and agriculture, maintaining most of the cooperation agreements and adopting the entire EU acquis into British law, nothing changes. This is the quickest settlement to negotiate, the least disruptive and the solution most likely to be ratified without a fuss.

This also gives Britain time to rediscover and enhance vital policy-making capabilities. Nobody said self-governance is easy, but the greater autonomy, agility and accountability that our politics will have once we are free of the EU straitjacket makes the process more than worthwhile. The recovery of democratic self-government and the ability to hire and fire our law-makers would give Britain a renewed sense of purpose and solidarity. Co-operation with the continent and countries further afield would of course be part of that.

With an independent trade policy, for instance, Britain could work with like-minded allies such as Australia and New Zealand to develop and enhance the multilateral trading system. So many of the standards which the EU turns into regulations are not made in Brussels anymore. The international body for food hygiene is the Codex Alimentarius Commission based in Rome. The international body for maritime law is the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) based in London. Vehicle standards are made by the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29), a working party of the Inland Transport Division of the United Nations Commission for Europe (UNECE), based in Geneva.

This alphabet soup of organisations—largely unknown to the general public—produce the rules which the Single Market later adopts. But, because the standards are international in their origin, countries such as Canada, India and the USA are not concerned about having “no say” in the Single Market. Indeed, independent countries have more say than EU Member States when it comes to making their voices heard at the global level.

EU Member States are bound by the Common External Tariff and the Common Commercial Policy, which, under the terms of Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union, empowers the European Commission to speak on behalf of EU Member States in international trade talks and compels EU Member States to adopt the EU’s “common position” on standards-setting bodies at the global level.

This matters now more than ever because of the way in which the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade has turned the EU from a rule-maker into a rule-taker. Article 2.4 says: “Where technical regulations are required and relevant international standards exist or their completion is imminent, Members shall use them, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis for their technical regulations”. That little word “shall” transforms the relationship between global bodies and the EU, placing independent nation-states at the forefront of the regulatory agenda. In other words, the real ‘top tables’ are at the global level—and that is where Britain needs to be in order to ensure that British ideas are represented.

Recovering our full power of independent self-representation will enable Britain to move quicker and be more agile when it comes to international trade. Moreover, the “International Model” advanced by UNECE’s WP.6 (Working Party on Regulatory Co-operation and Standardisation Policies) provides a means to pool talent to create technical regulation through intergovernmental agreement, without sacrificing sovereignty to a supranational government. As a form of bellwether regarding the high degree of co-operation balanced with independence that this model allows, the United States is an active player within WP.6.

National control over fisheries, agricultural, environmental and energy policies would likewise enable Britain to adapt faster to change and respond flexibly to local demands. That is something the EU can never do; it is institutionally incapable of rapid response. The return of real policy-making power to Westminster and Whitehall would also necessitate making local government more powerful and accountable. The sclerotic EU bureaucracy has served its time. With the assurance that we can leave the EU in a manner that is economically secure, the opportunity to correct the historic error of EU membership is too good to miss. Let’s vote to leave.

“Project Fear” Concedes Defeat

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The swiftness with which Remain-minded MPs have gone from saying that leaving the EU is a “leap in the dark” and “nobody knows what Leave looks like” (literally yesterday) to today saying that “One alternative option put forward by pro-EU MPs would be for the UK to stay part of the single market by continuing its membership of the European Economic Area” is quite remarkable.

This BBC article prompted a strong reaction on both sides of the referendum campaign. But nothing in it will be news to anybody who has followed the work of The Leave Alliance or read Dr Richard North’s Flexcit plan. Indeed, were either of the campaign groups doing anything like a reasonable job of informing the public, the idea of leaving the EU but remaining in the Single Market would be entirely unremarkable.

The Leave Alliance has always argued that leaving the EU will necessarily be a process not an event and that as a result of more than 40 years of political and economic integration untangling Britain’s policy-making framework from that of the EU will take time. This is nothing more than pragmatic political reality.

There is no realistic exit option that does not embrace transitional arrangements of some kind or other and an EFTA/EEA type arrangement is the most credible because it involves taking existing legal instruments off the shelf to avoid uncertainty and facilitate an agreement that both Britain and the EU can accept in the short- to medium-term. EFTA/EEA would not be the destination but a pragmatic interim arrangement on route to a new settlement.

To witness the hysterical reactions of those who have variously ridiculed, ignored and scorned the only credible Brexit plan responding to the news that a Remain-oriented Parliament would have a say in the immediate post-exit arrangements is odd to say the least. A credible leave campaign, which Vote Leave most assuredly is not, would be using this opportunity to hammer home the fact that the EU is not the Single Market. Reassurance that Britain will not leave the Single Market while we disengage from the EU’s political and judicial arrangements means that leaving the EU is no risk at all.

With respect to immigration, it is worth noting that the EEA agreement contains within it a unilateral “emergency brake” akin to the one that Cameron failed to agree as part of his EU “renegotiation”. Furthermore, there is more to managing immigration than immediately ending free movement of workers within the EEA. Recovering policy control over key areas such as trade and aid, as well as foreign and defence policy, will enable Britain to do much more to find solutions to what is a global problem, working with our allies in Europe and partner countries around the world.

Leaving the EU is only the start of a process that will transform this country into one that is much more democratic and much more engaged at the global level. Outside of the EU, Britain would have no option but to modernise; Westminster and Whitehall would be too busy with national governance to indulge in political vanity projects; real localism would become a necessity; the business of politics would be policy and I see only positives resulting from the resurgence of democracy and accountable government.

The Remainers overplayed their hand with the “Project Fear” bogey and now they are trying to claim credit for ideas that were never theirs. The one thing that none of them can argue credibly from now on, however, is that “nobody knows what Leave looks like”. It begins with a return to proper democratic politics with a Parliamentary process to determine our immediate post-exit arrangements, and, to take the argument one stage further, we even know what that looks like—leaving the EU and remaining in the Single Market.

If you are interested in really engaging with the responsibilities and the opportunities that arise from democratic self-governance, there is (much) more in Flexcit.

Thinking Beyond The Bubble

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If we want to get a handle on the immigration situation, the UK government will need to work to foster conditions that promote economic prosperity and political stability around the world. Poverty and war are two of the primary drivers of migration across Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. This is a global problem which requires global solutions.

As an EU Member State, many of the policy tools that would be at the disposal of the UK government are presently wielded by EU institutions. Trade policy is an exclusive EU competency and a large proportion of British aid—second only to the United States in terms of absolute expenditure—is administered at an EU level.

What happens with that money from there is less than clear, although, by way of an example, one of the recipients of EU aid money is an organisation called BBC Media Action, which, in 2013, received nearly seven million euros from the Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation for EuropeAid in order to promote media activity across the Middle East and North Africa.

Whether that is an appropriate use of tax-payer resources is difficult to determine without going into detail, but, certainly, the decision was not one that was made with any serious democratic oversight.

By contrast, the other day, I happened upon this tweet from the body in charge of supervising the EEA and Norway Grants—Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway’s contribution to “reducing disparities and strengthening cooperation in Europe”. This is an important activity in which the UK would undoubteldy be involved post-exit. Outside of the EU, however, there would be a greater degree of transparency and accountability with respect to where that money gets spent.

Indeed, the idea of an accountable aid system could be applied in Whitehall as well. As the only country with a legal commitment to spend 0.7 percent of GDP on foreign aid, the UK government should be taking how and where we spend that money much more seriously. The policies that we promote through our aid programme are important in terms of acting in the common good and advancing British interests by means of soft power.

Mobile Money and the Department for International Development

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimates that the mobile-cellular penetration rate stands at 96 percent globally; 128 percent in developed countries; and 89 percent in developing countries. The liberalisation of basic telecommunications services, following a World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement, which came into force on 1st January 1998, has enabled mobile markets that are more open and better regulated than their fixed-line equivalents to flourish. Whereas land-line services are still mainly provided by formerly state-owned incumbents—especially in the developing world—the mobile space is characterised by its diversity. Competition between network operators, equipment suppliers and high-street retailers has resulted in lower prices and better quality of service for millions of telecommunications customers.

The unprecedented speed of cell-phone adoption in the developing world has transformed the mobile phone from a simple communications tool to a service delivery platform, enabling millions of African, Asian and Latin American consumers to ‘leap-frog’ fixed-line telecommunications in favour of cheaper and more adaptable cellular alternatives. In 1999, only 10 percent of people living in Africa had access to mobile phone coverage, today that figure is in excess of 80 percent, with more than 10 times as many mobile phones as landlines in sub-Saharan Africa.

To that end, one of the most successful foreign aid initiatives funded by the UK government over recent years was the M-Pesa mobile money service—developed by Vodafone subsidiary, Safaricom, in co-operation with the Department for International Development. Mobile money provides a means for people who do not have access to traditional bank accounts to transfer and store cash. Approximately 25 percent of Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP) now flows through M-Pesa, which is used by over 17 million people—more than two-thirds of Kenya’s adult population.

Initially marketed as a way to send and receive remittance payments, mobile money is now being thought about much more broadly. There are currently 228 live deployments of mobile money services in 85 countries, as well as 115 planned deployments, mostly in developing countries.

With a View to the Future

I offer this as only one example of a worthwhile initiative, alongside the recognition that far too much foreign aid money is wasted on frivolous, pointless and sometimes harmful and regressive projects—the EU policy of not supporting coal-powered power projects in the developing world, where the demand for electricity still far outstrips supply, is both harmful and regressive.

An integrated trade and aid policy under democratic control of the British people could become a tool for removing technical barriers to trade, through support of the rules-based multilateral institutions empowered by the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, and by removing physical barriers to trade by investing in and supporting the building of modern roads and ports, while also providing training to authorities to improve surveillance and enforcement systems. Rather than providing a means for politicians and others to burnish their own virtue at tax payer expense, an independent trade and aid policy would become a tool to advance British policy aims, such as opening new markets for exports (including our world-class service expertise) and reducing the “push factors” that drive much immigration while also benefiting the internal and intra-market trade between developing economies.

Providing expertise and assistance to help emerging economies grow their human capital is the only long-term approach that will address the migrant crisis which EU institutions and the UK government (as part of the EU) have allowed to fester. If we want to solve global problems we have to start thinking globally and I would suggest that abandoning EU parochialism, which prioritises political integration regardless of the costs, and taking responsibility for governing our own affairs, holding elected officials within our own administration to account is the first practical and pragmatic step towards a political settlement that is better for everybody.

The EU Is Not The Single Market

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Remainers apparently struggle to understand the very simple concept that the EU is not the Single Market. To clarify, the Single Market is the 31-member state EEA (European Economic Area) agreement, which includes EFTA (European Free Trade Association) members—Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein—along with the 28 EU Member States.

EFTA/EEA member states enjoy full access to the Single Market without being bound by the Common External Tariff or the Common Commercial Policy, which, under the terms of Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union, empowers the European Commission to speak on behalf of EU Member States in international trade talks and compels EU Member States to adopt the EU’s “common position” on standards-setting bodies at the global level.

It is quite stunning the lengths to which Remainers will go to in order to muddy the water on this particular issue, even to the point of arguing against themselves. No less a figure than the Prime Minister says that the Norway option would not be right for Britain because it would mean paying into the EU budget and accepting free movement of workers. Maybe I missed a meeting, but at what point was it agreed that remaining in the EU would mean any change to either aspect of our current relationship?

Of all the rubbish I have read about the EEA though, this piece from Euroactiv currently tops what is a very long list. If you want to read the entire article the link is there. I am going to focus only on the following sentence:

In practice, Norway was never outside the EU: As a member of the European Economic Area Agreement (EEA), Norway adopts all Single Market legislation just like any EU member state, with the exception of the common agriculture and fishery policies.

I will say it again if I have to, the EU is not the Single Market. This abuse of language is so common among Remainers that one easily becomes inured to it, but what Euroactiv has published here amounts to a lie. Norway is not in the EU and nobody can credibly argue that Norway is in the EU. That would be because the Single Market agreement (the EEA) is not the EU. The use of the words “in practice” change nothing.

There is also the assertion that “Norway adopts all Single Market legislation just like any EU Member State”. Countries that are in the EEA adopt all “EEA relevant” legislation, but, that is not the same as being in the EU. Not even close. At last count, the proportion of “EEA relevant” legislation was around one quarter of the total number of EU legislative acts in force. Adopting all Single Market legislation is not the same as adopting all EU legislation because—say it with me now—the EU is not the Single Market.

For any europhiles trying to follow along, you can leave now. You wouldn’t understand this next bit and I know that new information is the kind of thing that is liable to disrupt your worldview. Still here? Right, get this, I’m about to blow your mind: not only is the EU not the Single Market, but the world does not end at the borders of the EU.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. You’ve heard all about those dragons at the edge of the map and isn’t the EU a flat disk sat on the back of a turtle being pulled through space by four giant elephants?

No, exciting as the thought may be, Britain and the British people will not be stepping off the edge of the world at the point of EU exit. Transitional arrangements which suit both sides will be hammered out as part of the exit negotiation. The Remainer idea that leaving the EU would mean Britain being “isolated” and “alone” is as pitiable as it is absurd. As far as these timid creatures as concerned, the UK is not a place that “makes history” any more.

To be completely honest, even if that were true (it isn’t), Britain is still my home. It matters to me how and by whom my country is governed even if the time-servers at the FT can’t be arsed to engage with the arguments with any degree of seriousness.

One of the reasons why the Remainers’ view of EU exit is so grossly negative is that (if their rhetoric is to be believed) they genuinely think that the world really does end at the edge of the EU. The fact of the matter, however, is that globalisation is changing everything. The emergence of genuinely multilateral institutions operating on an intergovernmental basis at the global level undermines practically every argument that the Remainers make about having “influence” in the EU. If we want Britain to play an active part in solving the major issues of the 21st century, rather than whinging from the sidelines mired in a grey supranational construct conceived in the 1920s, Britain needs a full seat at the top table.

Britain is plugged into the global system in ways that the Remainers have not even begun to recognise, let alone seriously address. There are a universe of global bodies above the level of the sub-regional EU. The WTO, Codex, UNECE, the ILO, the IMO, and so on. But, as part of the EU, the UK is bound by the EU “common position” on these forums, without an independent voice, vote or right of reservation.

Our politicians cede our power at the global level in exchange for “influence” in the EU. But what purpose does that “influence” serve if it means that the voice of the people is never heard?

The Remainers want us to believe that it would be really, really dangerous for Britain, one of the world’s oldest and most successful nation-state democracies, to embrace the same level of independence as say, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, Canada, the United States, etc. Then they act incredulous when we say that we don’t believe them.

This great country’s days are not over. Leaving the EU would be but the first step in a great global journey towards greater prosperity and purposeful political engagement. There is a lot of work to be done to rebuild our democratic institutions and policy-making expertise, but the first step is to leave the EU.