It is a testament to the power of the Remain campaign’s propaganda machine that Stronger In slogans are still being repeated, even after the vote. While prominent Vote Leave claims are subject to persistent ridicule, several of the Remainers’ repeated refrains are now being re-broadcast and, in some cases, even amplified by people and organisations which style themselves as Leavers.
Leave.EU, Change Britain and Brexit Central all assert that Britain leaving the EU must coincide with Britain leaving the Single Market, predicated on the same misleading arguments made by Stronger In and British Influence during the campaign. Indeed, a video doing the rounds features clips of pro-EU politicians saying that voting to leave the EU would necessarily mean leaving the Single Market.
This elision of the EU and the Single Market was understandable, if not excusable, in the context of a winner-takes-all referendum contest, but for some Leavers to insist that those prior assertions must now preclude the most straightforward “leave” options is perverse. Remainers also said that the act of voting to leave the EU would result in a catastrophic economic downturn, uncontrollable political turmoil, and even conflict.
Maybe somebody can explain why some campaign rhetoric should be taken at face value while the rest should be dismissed as reckless hyperbole. It seems to me as if the Tory right are pushing this particular line as a means to advance an agenda which would never otherwise be accepted by the British electorate.
For what it is worth, I do not like the idea of the Tory right setting the post-exit agenda any more than I like the idea of those who would like to reverse the referendum outcome making the running. Both parties represent extremes in this particular debate. However, I do find it odd to see people who acknowledge that a “bridging agreement” may be necessary taking fright at the idea of former Remainers accepting that an EFTA/EEA-type deal represents the kind of EU exit they could support.
The overwhelming majority of people accept that Britain must now leave the EU. That is, the UK government must withdraw from EU Treaties, Institutions and Representations. The concern that a staged approach to EU exit may make it easier for the UK to rejoin the EU at a later date is, in my view, unfounded. Provided that “leave” means “leave”, the UK would have to re-apply via Article 49 of the TEU, with no opt-outs and a commitment to join the euro and the Schengen no border zone.
Fears that EU exit could be usurped in this manner also fail to take account of the fact that, once Britain leaves the EU, its relationship with EU institutions and remaining EU Member States changes fundamentally. As much as the EFTA/EEA route is a “least change” scenario, which fulfils the strict referendum mandate, while also providing a comparative “safe harbour” in which the UK can work to discover the art of democratic self-governance, EFTA membership and participation in the EEA is not “half out”.
I remember having interminable discussions with eurosceptics and europhiles arguing over this very fact. Norway is not in the EU. Iceland is not in the EU. There is no credible case to be made that they are. Because they’re not. EFTA member states do not pay into the EU budget, they pay to participate in the Single Market. Neither are EFTA member states subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The EEA agreement is a two-pillar system. The EFTA Court provides dispute resolution for EFTA members in the EEA. The existence of “safeguard measures” in the EEA agreement also grant the UK government a powerful mechanism to address the issue of immigration as part of EFTA.
Making the case for an EFTA/EEA type of arrangement immediately after exit is frustrating, in a way, because the purpose of any interim approach is to act as a means to an end. The UK and EU will need to agree a framework for future co-operation before the Article 50 timeline expires, and attempting to reach agreement on new structures and procedures for administering product certification, market surveillance and dispute resolution within two-years introduces unnecessary risk.
Once it is acknowledged that unwinding 44 years of political, economic and social integration will be a long-term process rather than a one-time event, the precise form any transitional arrangements should take becomes much less important than defining an end game—and that, as I have written on several occasions now, is where I think we really need to be.
I expect there to be plenty of disagreement about what the UK government should set as its objectives for the UK’s relationship with the EU after exit, which is precisely why the debate over what the UK should aim for after exit should begin as soon as possible.
I have observed three proposals for what could follow an interim arrangement. The first is to embrace the “WTO Option” (the unilateral route). The second is some kind of a comprehensive free trade agreement between the UK and EU, possibly akin to the deal that the European Commission is in the process of negotiating with Canada (the bilateral route). The third is for an independent Britain to break from the pattern of negotiating bilateral deals and strive instead to shape and develop the multilateral trading system, working alongside similarly-minded partners, such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, playing ‘honest broker’ to the USA and EU (the multilateral route).
As part of such an approach, the UK could also play a catalysing role in the creation of an alternative framework for wider European co-operation, under the umbrella of UNECE, decoupling trade and technical regulation from the EU and moving Europe away from the dismal idea of a Europe of “concentric circles”, with the unaccountable, supranational European Commission at the centre, towards a genuinely co-operative model, which works better for everybody.
Free of the EU, the UK government will be in a position to pursue policies and approaches which were infeasible, or circumscribed, while Britain remained an EU Member State. A truly constructive approach to EU exit, which aims to deliver a win-win for the UK and continental Europe, could make EU withdrawal not only better for Britain but better for the world at large. With focus and vision, delivering that positive outcome would not only put the europhiles firmly back in their place, it would render any calls for the UK to return to the EU an irrelevance.