No Maps For These Territories

During the referendum campaign, Stronger In said that seeking to rejoin EFTA in order to participate in the EEA agreement would leave the UK, like Norway, with “no say” over “EU rules”.

Post-referendum, that mantra was taken up by the “hard Brexit” crowd. Am I the only person who finds that strange?

The pretexts that are offered for opposing an EFTA/EEA transition now are practically identical to those that were offered during the campaign: money, regulation and immigration.

The “hard Brexiteers” say that participating in the EEA means paying into the EU budget, which it does not. Called on that one, they shift to saying that the EEA costs too much and that the UK would be better off without the “burdensome” regulation they associate with the Single Market. Presumably, these people are proposing a cost-free alternative? It is impossible to know; the “hard Brexit” crowd are long on criticism and short on ideas.

Free trade agreements, especially those of the “deep and comprehensive” variety apparently favoured by the May government involve shared bureaucracy, for which somebody has to pay. Furthermore, Britain’s domestic regulatory and administrative agencies will almost certainly have to expand as policy-making powers are brought back under the UK umbrella. Those also cost money.

In short, any cost-savings that accrue from not having to pay directly into the EU budget will not be saved or made available for spending on the NHS. They will have to be reinvested in many of the same activities that are currently outsourced to the EU. Indeed, many of those activities would be even better handled at a local level. What and how powers should be dispersed is the kind of question Brexit demands that we discuss.

The sterile non-debate, hosted in the legacy press, in which the usual eurowhingers drone on and on about their opposition to any remotely realistic proposals, while offering no alternatives of their own, is of no use to anybody.

International co-operation costs money. That’s a fact. But, supranational EU institutions are far from the only, let alone the best or even most appropriate means to facilitate cross-border collaboration.

Technical standards for trade are another area where the conversation has been allowed to become much too narrow. Leaving the EU demands (that word again) that the British electorate think about and discuss what an independent trade policy can deliver. The UK market is not big enough to create an alternative centre of gravity and compete head-on with the so-called “Brussels effect” (formerly the California effect), and nor do we need to. Greater agility and enhanced accountability will enable us to build new alliances, work to embrace and extend the multilateral trading system, and also encourage new voices to have their say.

Accepting an EFTA/EEA interim would near-enough guarantee that the UK is in a position to leave the EU once the scheduled Article 50 timeline expires. The UK could immediately jettison two-thirds of the EU acquis and start to look to the future, working to rebuild our long-neglected national and local governance. An imaginative approach to areas such as agriculture, fisheries, environmental and energy policy has the potential to yield significant gains.

Contrary to establishment myth-making, neither does the EFTA/EEA route involve accepting the continued jurisdiction of the ECJ. The EFTA Court is an existing entity with an independent track record which, crucially, unlike May’s promised “deep and special partnership”, actually exists. Who knows what the Tory Party will assent to given the option to present us with their version of “Brexit”?

Finally, the EEA agreement also includes safeguard measures—a standard feature of almost every international treaty (the supranational EU is very much the exception in that regard)—which Lietchtenstein was able to leverage to negotiate a permanent opt-out from freedom of movement while also retaining participation in the Single Market.

In brief, an EEA type deal offers a stable path out of the EU, would not involve paying into the EU budget, would not involve accepting the continued jurisdiction of the ECJ, and need not necessarily involve full freedom of movement. None of the three pretexts offered by the politicians and the legacy press are true. Yet, the UK government has already said that the rate of immigration may increase after Brexit and that they would be willing to accept the continuing jurisdiction of the EJC for the duration of an (as yet unspecified) “implementation phase”. Perversely, the people who attack the EEA agreement do not attack the government for making proposals which are ostensibly much worse and a lot less “hard” than the “hard Brexiteers” present themselves as being.

For the time being, however, the legacy debate is mired in a tussle over who is more obnoxious, Theresa May or Jean-Claude Junker…

9 thoughts on “No Maps For These Territories

  1. It would also be worth mentioning that we can leave the EEA by giving 1 years notice.

    So for those who actually desire a hard exit + FTA, we would not need to stuck in the EEA. We could (if desired) use it to rebuild some of our infrastructure (i.e. independent customs), then when ready leave completely.

    Not that I view that as a good idea, but it could be done. Leave in stages.


  2. EEA would provide a stable path, but you are wrong to say it could be achieved without Freedom of Movement.
    Liechtenstein has a population of 37k. It is not a valid example against UK, and to say it is puts you in the same galaxy as Theresa.
    Meanwhile technically we would not be paying into the EU, but in reality we would be paying huge sums into EU projects like Norway to secure Single Market access.
    Brexit was secured on a lie that “free” seamless trade is possible without obligations, and Theresa is determined to attempt Hard Brexit.
    Even if we did this – where would your strong and stable EEA path lead? International investment would be reduced as the future would be uncertain.
    It is the triumph of simplistic populist dogma over economic reality.


    • There is nothing remarkable or unique, let alone intergalactic, about invoking the safeguard measures that are part of the EEA agreement.

      For what it is worth, the European Commission already agreed in principle that the UK faces a unique set of circumstances which would justify action on free movement of people.

      More details, here… and here…

      “It is the triumph of simplistic populist dogma over economic reality.”

      Except that the EU is not primarily or even mainly an economic project. There are a multitude of ways in which the UK can work with our European neighbours, none of which need involve surrendering policy-making power to supranational institutions.


      • Thanks for your reply.
        The whole population of Liechtenstein could fit in Sheffield Wednesday’s ground with hundreds of empty seats left.
        It is utterly absurd to use this as a basis for an exemption to FoM, aside from the other red lines.
        However in my personal view it does give insight into the Brexit mindset.
        English nationalism and (my) sovereignty is somehow defined by referencing statutes and directives.

        I can ship products to customers in Milan or Helsinki in 2-3 days without customs checks. I am in the right time zone to support customers, with FoM helping me with European languages.
        I sell to Poland from the UK (contributing UK taxes) with UK based Polish staff without any restrictions, or even VAT.
        I can manage returns, ship direct to consumers from any warehouse, source component products across the EU (including Japanese/US suppliers who warehouse in EU) without duty.
        My issues are the Swiss border (where I manually batch some shipments to cut customs costs), the Norwegian border. I am grateful for the Turkish CU agreement but still need paperwork.
        For anyone trading in goods leaving the CU is a bigger issue than SM, but actually both will hurt.
        I also already trade globally so Brexit is likely to give me limited benefits. I face global protectionist barriers in the US(complex local sales tax, hazardous transport, corporate taxes), Mexico (invoice via government), Brazil (don’t get me started), India (chaos currently) and China (great firewall stops my B2B, legal trademark issues).

        Obviously the one area we totally disagree on is that Europe is primarily a trading bloc, or not.
        For me the EU is a trading bloc and I see no major loss of democracy or lack of sovereignty.
        It is almost like I need to be a lawyer to be a true patriot, so I can understand where my life is being taken over by the evil EU.
        It is impossible to argue against a subjective fear of supranational institutions, especially as Brexiters refuse to explain the “multitude of ways” in which seamless trade can be arranged which respects 28 plus independent sovereign nations. So much that is wrong with this country is nothing to do with the EU including the lack of employment regulation that fuels mass unskilled EU immigration.

        All business can do is watch the Brexit mess unravel with the uneducated Brexit/Trump supporters suffering the most, and then we pick up the pieces and re-join the EU later. That’s my plan.


      • You should read those links, and also pay attention to what I have already written. The safeguard measures in the EEA agreement are not contingent on the comparative size of Liechtenstein. The ability to curtail or end freedom of movement exists as a matter of right within that particular agreement.

        As for whether “Europe” is a trading bloc or a government, you are factually mistaken. The EU (not Europe, dearie) is and always was about creating a government above the level of the nation-states, with the unelected Commission at the centre having sole right of initiative. The entire edifice was constructed with the conscious intent to curtail national sovereignty, as the more honest/informed EU supporters readily acknowledge. Maybe you think it’s right that electorates should be cut out of the political process, but the system is certainly not democratic.


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