A europhile whose identity I shall protect recounts her first hand experience of what it means to be out of the EU but in the EEA in her work in a European student exchange programme.
"Do you know how long it took Brussels to react to the Swiss vote on immigration? ONE night! The morning after the referendum when we switched on our computers we found an email informing us that Swiss students do not qualify any longer to our Programme! And this of course had a similar impact on research funds to Switzerland etc and on the rest of the economic agreements. Can you even begin to imagine the huge loss to them?"This is the kind of scaremongering we will see repeated ad nauseam. It's about as boring and risible as many of the eurosceptic arguments. The Switzerland immigration vote is irrelevant to the Brexit debate. Freedom of movement is a central tenet of EU law. The Swiss referendum blew a huge hole in that. It was inevitable that the EU was going to react under the circumstances, and the response was relatively mild for what was a unilateral decision and not a negotiated settlement that consulted the EU. What did they expect?
But it's wrong to assume this applies to Brexit. Nobody proposes that we rip up the treaties of the EU incurring their wrath. Nobody proposes that we do not play by the rules. By way of stating our intent to leave the EU under Article 50, the EU is obliged to obey its own obligations to negotiate an exit settlement.
In this it will be in no hurry to cut its own nose off to spite its face. We are a valuable market to them and our cooperation and future participation in joint efforts on trade and security are paramount for both. By law we have two years to negotiate a settlement, which is unlikely to consist of a whole divorce in that forty years of integration is not undone overnight. We will likely take an off the shelf interim arrangement similar to Norway - as a precursor to full independence.
We will probably concede on freedom of movement in exchange for continued access to the single market in the mid term, thus very little is affected as far as business or academia is concerned. You do not have to be a member of the EU to participate in either of the major academic programmes. To suggest that Brexit is a quickie divorce with catastrophic consequences is absurd.
Brexit is not a binary option. This referendum is an opportunity to redefine how we relate to the EU. It does not require an end to all co-operation with it. This is a misrepresentation and it is entirely baseless. There is no reason why we cannot be participants in the single market and we are not proposing to slam the doors shut on our friends and allies. We just have a destiny that isn't tied to the woes of the euro, and we seek the agility to forge new opportunities and to join the global trading community.
Should we actually leave the EU, the kippers are going to be fuming that it has little impact on the budget contributions or immigration, but the pro-EU types are going to be equally embarrassed that none of their grim prognostications came true.
The lesson here though is that the rhetoric and the vibe coming from the Brexit campaign leaves us wide open to to this kind of scaremongering - and because the main players have done little groundwork in establishing the terms of Brexit, and they stand defenceless as a consequence. All they have to go on is supposition and optimistic guesswork. If we rely on guesswork, we fail to secure the confidence of opinion formers and that is how we lose the referendum.
This is why we have argued from the beginning that the No campaign needs a credible exit plan. The political realities dictate the tone of our message and knowing the details in this regard allows us to comprehensively debunk the shameless scaremongering of europhiles.