…the conduct of the campaign will not only have an enormous bearing upon the final result but also upon the political environment and incentives that exist post-referendum. In that sense, how we win matters just as much as winning… without a coherent exit plan outlining how Britain would leave the EU, a vote to leave could all too easily become an excuse for yet more “renegotiation” and “reform”.
I wrote those words in October 2015. Now, look at where we find ourselves, in November 2016, having voted to leave the EU.
The idea of “transitional arrangements” is finally being mooted amongst the think-tank crowd. Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform and Anand Menon of UK in a Changing Europe have both put forward alternative proposals which purport to solve the problems associated with the two-year negotiating window granted under the terms of Article 50 (TEU).
Open Britain just hosted an event at which Nick Clegg, Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna called for Britain to remain in the Single Market—and Remain-minded think-tank, British Influence, is proposing to instigate legal proceedings to determine whether leaving the EU necessarily means leaving the EEA (Single Market) as a matter of course.
If that all sounds oddly familiar, there is a reason for that, though I can understand why you may not be able to shake the idea that there is something very wrong with the picture being described.
This blog has long supported Dr Richard North’s proposal for a staged approach to EU exit, encompassing mutually beneficial relations with our European allies and domestic reform to revivify our faulting democracy.
To that end, Phase One of the Flexcit plan outlines how Britain could leave the EU within the two-year Article 50 timeline without suffering undue perturbation in terms of trade. First amongst three linked fallback positions is the idea of rejoining EFTA so as to participate in the EFTA pillar of the EEA agreement. This would immediately remove the European Commission and the European Court of Justice from Britain’s national life, and return policy control over trade, aid, agriculture, fisheries, justice & home affairs, foreign affairs and defence to the UK parliament.
The one thing that recommends the EEA exit route (sub-optimal as it may be) above all other transitional arrangements is that it involves leaving the EU first. Of course a transition is only acceptable provided there is a destination mapped out. The only circumstances under which an apparently necessary interim deal would be acceptable to Brexiteers (this one included) is under the proviso that it leads on to further disentanglement in the future.
The later stages of the Flexcit plan start to discuss these issues, taking us well beyond the bounds of the current legacy debate. The cleverness of what is labelled “Stage Three” of the Flexcit plan derives from the fact that the processes Britain could use to decouple the administration of the Single Market from the EU are already in tow. The WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade is extant. International standards form the basis of a very large proportion of the EEA acquis; the scope for deviation from those standards when shaping associated regulation is limited. The EU is already in the process of losing control of the Single Market.
The comparative “safe harbour” of the EFTA/EEA arrangement would also grant Britain time to enhance its policy-making capabilities. The evidence of the referendum campaigns and the debate that has followed indicate that there is a lot of learning to be done before Britain is ready to act as an independent force in the world.
I have had the idea described back to me in the following terms: First the UK must leave the EU in one piece (an EEA type deal) then the UK must discover/rediscover the art of democratic self-governance and become a fully independent, sovereign nation-state. The second cannot happen without the first and the first is contingent upon the second.
Crucially, the matter of “parliamentary sovereignty”, about which we have heard so much over recent weeks, will need to be properly addressed. It was parliamentary sovereignty that allowed MPs to take Britain into the EU without our consent and to keep us there for the next 43 years, signing one integrating treaty after another. Most of the MPs now in Parliament have no idea what Britain’s role in the EU is supposed to be or even why we ended up in the EU in the first place. The ignorance our elected officials display on a daily basis is truly staggering. Yet, even the low-grade standard of debate surrounding the topic of Brexit makes for a night and day contrast with the absence of discussion that accompanied new EU treaties and policies. The oleaginous, Peter Hain, even had the gall to describe the Treaty of Lisbon (the rebranded EU Constitutional Treaty) as a “tidying-up exercise”.
If this is how we have come to expect our MPs to behave, we are going to have to learn to hold them (and ourselves) to a much higher standard.
Perhaps we could begin with this, written by Kwasi Kwarteng MP, who campaigned to “leave” in the recent referendum. To say that his article is full of errors is an understatement. Frankly, it is an embarrassment. But, that is sadly what I have come to expect of the Tory “eurosceptics”, not one of which had the guts to call out the farcical Vote Leave campaign for attempting to corrupt the honourable cause of national independence and democratic self-government.
At this crucial juncture, as the debate begins to shift to the topic of “transitional arrangements” and what form they should take, the people and groups associated with the Vote Leave campaign are ceding the ground to ineffectual Remainers. Rather than insisting that any interim deal can only be acceptable if it involves, first of all, leaving the EU, and second of all, an alternative destination, the “Tory 60” are instead making non-proposals for unilateral withdrawal and trade on WTO terms. The alternative to a transition deal that takes us out of the EU is a “transition deal” that does not. What side are Tory “eurosceptics” on?