Monday, 28 November 2016

The single market interim option is the only sane way forward


Some readers have remarked that this blog can be repetitive at times. I make no apology for it. This is a campaigning blog and I will say the same things so long as it is necessary to say them. In that fashion I return to the matter of the single market.

Opinion on the matter of single market membership is becoming ever more polarised. Even moderate Brexiteers are beginning to suspect that any attempt to keep us in the single market is an attempt to stop Brexit. But that shouldn't distract us too much in that the EEA option, often described as the Norway Option, has always been the least popular among leavers.

The fact remains that the leave campaign could not agree on a plan and the only thing they do agree on is that we should leave the EU. The EEA option does exactly that. Of all the interim arrangements available it is the option that sees us officially leave the EU the fastest and removes the possibility of being sucked back in.

What it does do is minimise the impact of Brexit on business and retains the maximum possible cooperation with the EU while being outside of the political union. As a middle way it works in that it safeguards much of that which is valued by remainers whose views must be taken into account given that the leave win margin was wafer thin.

As most are now aware the EEA does have safeguard measures so that we can modify freedom of movement but for this should be viewed as secondary since immigration was not the issue on the ballot paper and most leavers would say that "taking back control" was their primary motivation.

The point of a staged exit using the EEA as a departure lounge is to secure an orderly transition recognising that forty years of technical and legal integration is not undone at the stroke of a pen. In the very first instance though a number of powers are returned to us over multiple policy areas including trade, aid, agriculture, fishing, home affairs, employment, justice, foreign and defence policy.

Given that we have over the last forty years dismantled much of our domestic governance capacity it follows that we must have a comprehensive transitional framework. Further to this, were we to seek a bespoke settlement we would be adding multiple layers of complexity and risk to that which is already complex and risky.

There are a number of myths surrounding the EEA option. Firstly the myth that Norway pays about the same into the EU budget. This is categorically untrue. There is an entirely different system which is not even administered by the EU. The second most common myth is that EEA members are still under ECJ jurisdiction. This is incorrect.

Decisions are taken by a process of co-determination which also applies to the adoption of single market rules. EEA members do not adopt all EU rules (less than a quarter) and as this blog has noted a number of times, the rules in future will predominantly be those agreed at the global level where we would regain our independence and right of veto.

To my mind, though, the most important feature of the EEA agreement is that it has its own secretariat which brings the agreement up for periodic review whereby we can continue the process of Brexit, registering opt outs as we go, as and when we are ready. This is superior to a fixed negotiated settlement that would be very difficult to revise after the fact.

The stone cold truth of the matter is that there were never any real budget savings to be had by leaving the EU, we are always going to need a liberal system of immigration in relation to Europe and deregulation is a vast red herring. Much of the dogma concerning regulation is a hangover from the debate in the early nineties and holds very little relevance to the situation as we find it.

Ultimately the vote to leave the EU was a vote to end political integration and re-establish the UK in as an independent nation in matters of law and trade. In all the ways that matter, the EEA satisfies that ambition while reducing the danger to the UK economy.

Hardline unilateralism would be a distinctly unwise policy for the UK as would any agreement that sees the creation of trade barriers where none presently exist. Leaving the EU should not and does not mean the end of cooperation with the EU and any settlement with it must recognise the fact that the EU is our closest ally in terms of geography and values. We should not seek to indulge the irrational and obstinate Brexiteers who would have us do deliberate harm to our economy for the sake of political ends which are unlikely to materialise and to most are undesirable.

This blog remains an ardent advocate of Brexit and in this I am not even all that enamoured with the single market in its current form, but the damage we have done by joining the EU will take a long time to repair and we should not act in haste. The EEA represents a stable compromise that will buy us time and give business the breathing space it needs. Like many Brexiteers I am impatient to leave but that must be tempered by reality.

For decades now we eurosceptics have warned that we were being taken into something that was quite different from what our politicians believed it was. Far from being a trade bloc it is a sophisticated government engine with tentacles running into almost every area of public life. Reversing the decision to take us in will not be easy since it was designed to be irreversible. We cannot expect that leaving will be straightforward and to pretend otherwise is misguided and wrong-headed.

Continued resistance to the EEA runs the risk of doing unnecessary damage to our economy and increasing the risk of failure whereby we end up trapped in the EU with fewer rights than before. This would be the worst of all possible worlds. In this game it pays to play it smarter and make short term compromises to get what we want in the long run. Trees that do not bend with the wind will break, so please Brexiteers, it's time to get a grip. Please don't make me say this again, I'm running out of clich├ęd Brexit flag pictures. 

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