What is ultimately faulty about the Brexit debate is that it divides everything into binaryism. Last night we had the egregious Melanie Phillips trotting out the tiresome canard that there is no hard or soft Brexit - only Brexit. It's especially loathsome on two counts. Firstly there is a fairly well understood distinction and secondly, to not see the necessity to make a distinction after all this time betrays a certain intellectual dishonesty.
The Brexiteer argument is that to have a soft Brexit is to remain half in half out. This is argued from a position of total ignorance. A soft Brexit would see us remain a part of the single market for sure. That though is not the EU. The single market is a regulatory union - the bi-product of which means seamless free movement of goods, capital and services.
Norway is a member of it while not being in the EU. It has a system of co-determination through Efta whereby it reserves the right to veto or modify regulations to its own purposes. It is not subordinate to the EU. For sure, very often the Efta court will take ECJ rulings into consideration and very often mirror them. Brexiteers have fetishised that as a bad thing, when in fact all that really matters is the right to say no - a right which EU member states do not enjoy.
The EEA agreement serves as a plug-in to the EU internal market while maintaining the essential sovereignty of statehood. That Norway does not often utilise it is neither here nor there. That principle alone is all that really matters. The aversion to any such an arrangement is the childish Brexiteer aversion to regulation. It's irrational. More to the point, it is stone stupid.
All the Brexiteers have assured us that we will seek out an agreement on tariffs and customs. Except that it does not work like that. The lack of customs checks comes as a consequence of regulatory harmonisation. They don't check because they don't have to. Any free trade agreement will require that any goods we export to the EU conform to the EU approved standards.
Brexiteers, particularly Tory Brexiteers argue that because we have been a member of the EU we already conform to the standards and reaching an agreement on mutual recognition should be no big deal. Except of course that regulatory systems are not set in stone and they constantly evolve. That means you need a system of maintaining parity. That would be a court or a system of co-determination like Efta. But since the Toryboys equate that with ECJ jurisdiction that means we simply take the rules as they come without a say in it. For clarity, that is actual ECJ jurisdiction if not on paper, then in practice. That's the reality of it.
By snubbing the EEA agreement we end up losing a number of permissions to operate within the EU internal market while having a far less dynamic relationship with the EU where it is more a dictatorship than partnership. And for what? Beats the hell out of me. It is unlikely to make any serious impact on immigration.
Like most Brexiteers, Melanie Phillips and her ilk reduce the entire Brexit process to one of securing a trade deal when in fact what we need is a framework for an ongoing relationship - one which safeguards our present trade while respecting our status as an independent state.
The idea that we can have a bonfire of regulations except for those areas where we export is really a juvenile fantasy that really doesn't play out in the real world. We accept a certain degree of imperfection for the efficiency of having only one set of rules - most of which mirror the global standard anyway. Regulation is a fact of life like death and taxes.
The question is not whether we would be half in or half out. It is a question of whether we have a comprehensive agreement and a framework for continued cooperation with the EU or whether we become an estranged island with far fewer rights to trade. If you could make the case that trade with the rest of the world was likely going to compensate for the loss of the single market then I would see the point, but nobody serious thinks that. Only a very small band of Tory zealots and Ukipper morons.
Our position should be to safeguard our existing trade while gaining the ability to augment our external trade. For that the EEA would have sufficed. We are taking a hit to our European trade for no good reason - losing universal access for UK foodstuffs, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and aviation. I get the point of Brexit. I really do. I do not see, though, why we need terminate the most comprehensive trade agreement we are ever likely to have. Is this just so we can have old school light-bulbs? I seriously hope not.