Saying The Unsayable

One of the few things on which I have heard practically every referendum campaigner agree is that the appointed campaigns were appalling. Outside of a tiny claque of legacy media pundits, who apparently know no better, Vote Leave and Stronger In have been slammed.

Given that context, why is it that Vote Leave’s £350 million claim is regarded as absurd (and worse) while Stronger In’s widely broadcast and just as false, “pay but no say” slogan is still regarded as credible?

If you like to rely on the researchers and university professors who work for traditional institutions of higher learning to provide you with reliable and accurate information, you may wish to look away now.

In a piece published by Prospect magazine, which, prior to the referendum, told us that Britain would not even be in the room during the Article 50 talks, Anand Menon and Jonathan Portes, of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative, write as follows:

The problem here is obvious—any “off the shelf” model looks, in economic terms, very like existing EU membership. And in political terms it looks even worse: during the referendum campaign, both Remain and Leave dismissed—crudely but not inaccurately—the “Norway model” as “pay but no say.” And indeed EEA membership implies not only accepting free movement, but also acceptance of EU law, and continued payments to the EU.

For people of this stature to lend legitimacy to the ridiculous “pay but no say” lie is, frankly, offensive.

Let us begin with the “no say” part.

Anybody who has followed this blog for more than five minutes (seconds?) will know that the assertion that Norway has “no say” in the framing of Single Market rules is a particular bugbear of mine. The reason is simple. The assertion is false. Not only is it false, however, it is trivial to disprove.

The high-level description of the “decision-shaping” procedures, which are part of the EEA agreement, accessible on the EFTA website, is sufficient evidence to affirm that Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein—the EFTA members that participate in the Single Market via the EEA agreement—have a say in the formulation of EEA (i.e. Single Market) rules.

Now, at the risk of labouring the point (too late!, ed.), I am going to go over that one more time, even more slowly. Note, I am not addressing whether EFTA members have as much or less than or more say than EU Member States in the formulation of Single Market rules. What concerns me here is the binary distinction between “a say” (some input) and “no say” (no input).

How much say Norway and the other participants in the EFTA pillar of the EEA agreement have or do not have is a debate that can only happen once it is acknowledged that those countries do, without any shadow of a doubt, have a say .

If we are going to understand one another, we must first establish a factual basis for our interactions. The phrase “no say” denotes a nullity, as in none, and, by definition, “no say” cannot accurately describe countries that participate in technical committees and consultation exercises as part of the framing of Single Market rules.

That rather low bar having been met, it is also important to note that the EEA acquis—those parts of the EU acquis that are deemed “EEA relevant”—is roughly one quarter of the size of the EU acquis. That this fact is omitted from the article above allows for further confusion regarding the phrase “acceptance of EU law”. How many people know that the EFTA/EEA arrangement would allow the UK to jettison roughly three quarters of EU law while continuing to have a say in the framing of EEA relevant legislation? Far fewer than ought to be the case, I would suggest, owing in no small part to the misrepresentations of EFTA/EEA perpetuated by leading academics.

That is without even mentioning escape from Article 34 and the “common position” that EU Member States are bound to adopt on a large number of world governing bodies, operating above the level of the supranational EU. Not to mention Menon and Portes’ faux pas regarding the “pay” part of the “no say” slogan (a subject for another blog).

In light of the trivial amount of knowledge needed to debunk the “no say” lie, one is minded to ask, how did this vapid deception come to be not only repeated but reaffirmed by a pair of leading academics and supposed subject-matter experts, writing for a respected political journal? Do they not know that the countries that participate in the EFTA pillar of the EEA agreement have a say in the formulation of Single Market rules? If they don’t know, what else have they got wrong?

More to follow.

4 thoughts on “Saying The Unsayable

  1. David Cameron started this story going whilst he was on his ” hug a husky” trip and it was readily accepted at the time by Nigel Farage, the people who came to compose Vote.leave and the Europhiles. Newspapers and the media have repeated it ad nauseam ever since – so it has become received truth.

    Just as an aside . The fishing industry is a case in point. Under Article 112 of the EEA, Norway and Iceland have exclusive fishing rights in all their waters including the EEZs, overriding the right to free establishment of businesses in the EEA. ” Quota hopping” is unknown because owners must be nationals, resident in the respective countries etc or companies where the majority of capital is native-owned and the directors native and resident. I doubt that our fishermen will get anything like these protections outside.

    Iceland was able to override the rules about free movement of capital during the financial crisis and, of course, Liechtenstein imposes strict limits on immigration – under rights specified on the face of the EEA agreement. Yet the harder Brexiteers always portray these as behind-the-scenes dodgy wheezes. There is actually much more scope for ( say) negotiating restrictions on free movement – of labour, rather than unemployed plus dependent than ever came to notice

    Whilst the EEA court has to have regard to ECJ rulings which are EEA-relevant, it does not actually have any powers of enforcement. Action is up to the parties to the agreement.

    And, of course, the EEA agreement can be ended with a year’s notice.

    As an interim arrangement , ready made and ( just about) capable of being negotiated within the two year Article 50 period. Least worst option I would say but probably too late now.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Good point – and I agree it is wrong of Remain to say that Norway (EFTA) has no say. In their (limited) defence I would second Edward Spalton’s point above that it became received ‘wisdom’ under Cameron (if not before). This inaccuracy was not helped by at least one Norwegian politician chipping in to say they just had to follow faxed instructions. I suspect that politician wasn’t that keen on the EU.

    As an aside, I have been a mild eurosceptic since the late 80s early 90s (and cheered Mrs Thatcher’s No, No, No speech from the public gallery in the House of Commons). However, I voted remain because the leave side did not put forward a cogent proposal for HOW we would leave and WHAT we would leave to. That is still my fundamental objection to Brexit – the lack of any workable plan.

    I might have perhaps been able to “got behind” Brexit if a wiser leader than May had said last year – “We realise the UK needs to change its relationship with the EU. We respect the desire not to be bound to a political project of ever closer union (a point conceded to Cameron but not made legally binding by treaty). But that is no excuse for jeopardising our economic ties with our largest trading partner. We will instead ask the EU and EFTA if we can make a smooth and speedy move from one to the other – maintaining all the advantages and commitments of the EEA (and perhaps even SM/CU to protect our financial services industry). We will commit to being in EFTA/EEA for at least 10 years and work constructively while in it to make it work. If after that time the British people feel they want to be further detached from such institutions, we will revisit the issue in 2029. We will not impose any red-lines at this stage save for the simple political necessity of leaving the EU.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for this. Something that has seemingly been lost in the hullabaloo are the, I dare say, reasonably large number of thoughtful eurosceptics, who would have backed a measured EU withdrawal, but who now find themselves, to all intents and purposes, on the other side of the argument by dint of the appalling Vote Leave campaign, and the approach that is now being pursued by this government.


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