The EEA would in principle allow Britain to preserve open trade with the EU single market and retain passporting rights for the City of London, the goose that lays the golden egg for a very vulnerable British economy.
“We should use the EEA as a vehicle to lengthen the transition time,” said Lord (David) Owen, one-time Labour foreign secretary and doyen of the EEA camp.
“Theresa May’s massive mistake has been to allow talk of a hard Brexit to run and run, and to refuse to frame a deal in a way that makes sense for the Europeans. The logic of the EEA is irrefutable,” he said.
Lord Owen said the EU’s withdrawal clause, ‘Article 50’, is designed as a deterrent to stop any country leaving. It leads to a cliff-edge, facing Britain with a take-it or leave-it choice when the clock stops ticking. “This puts us in a dangerous position,” he said. The EEA is a way to overleap this Article 50 trap.
Meredith Crowley, a trade expert at Cambridge University, says the great worry is that tariff barriers into the EU will jump to 12pc or 15pc overnight on UK exports of cars, engines, auto parts, and a range of machinery, setting off an exodus of foreign investment. “Joining the EEA would shut that threat down,” she said.
Critics argue that the Norwegian route is tantamount to remaining in the EU, but on worse terms, with no vote over policy: “While they pay, they don’t have a say,” said David Cameron before the Referendum.
This is a canard. EEA states are exempt from the EU's farming and fisheries policies, as well as from foreign affairs, defence, and justice. They are free from great swathes of EU dominion established by the Amsterdam, Nice, and Lisbon Treaties.
Above all, EEA states are not subject to the European Court’s (ECJ) limitless writ over almost all areas of law through elastic invocation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The ECJ would no longer be able to exploit the Charter - in breach of Britain’s opt-out under Protocol 30 - whenever it feels like it. We would no longer be under an EU supreme court asserting effective sovereignty. These are not small matters. They are elemental.
Yes, the Norwegian option is a compromise. We would continue paying into the EU budget. This would do much to defuse the escalating showdown over the €100bn bill for EU reparations, poisonous because of the way it is presented. The transfers would become an access fee instead. Norway’s net payments in 2014 were £106 a head. Let us not die in a ditch over such trivia.
Britain would have to tolerate relatively open flows of migrant workers. But contrary to widespread belief, the EEA does not entail full acceptance of the EU’s “four freedoms” - movement of goods, services, capital, and people. Nor does it give the European Court full sway on these issues.
The arrangement allows “a lesser degree” of free movement than within the EU. The language covers the issue of residence, an entirely different matter from the rights of EU citizenship created by the Maastricht Treaty. The EEA permits the sort of emergency brake on migrant flows that was denied to Mr Cameron in his last-ditch talks with the EU before the Referendum.
The point in any case is that the EEA would be a temporary way-station for ten years or so, giving us time to negotiate 80 trade deals with the US, China, Japan, India, Mercorsur, and others without a gun held to our head.
Events can turn quickly in our modern world and not only due to technology. Theresa May’s sudden announcement of an election campaign, after she had repeatedly said there would be no new contest, was clearly an opportunistic gamble even if it appeared justified given the Tories lead in public opinion polls.
Unfortunately, her disastrous, control freakery, narcissistic campaign - including a silence order for other Tory MPs - resulted in what I had previously described as the worst Conservative Party campaign that I have ever seen. What possessed this otherwise nice and seemingly capable woman?
Everyone has a view but as we so often see in politics, Governance is everything. Having squandered the Tory majority Mrs May cannot survive as Prime Minister. However, the UK and its Tory party need to avoid a lengthy, let alone contentious leadership contest at this vulnerable time.
I favour David Davis as the next Prime Minister. He has been Secretary of State for the European Union since 2016. Calm and intelligent, he has the experience to lead Brexit negotiations and will hopefully be recognised as the best candidate for Prime Minister shortly after Theresa May resigns. Coming from a humble background, he will have a broader national appeal than most upper crust Tories.
Without a significant Conservative Party majority, the next Prime Minister should negotiate a soft Brexit, joining the European Economic Area (EEA), along with Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. The EU would have a say in this, of course, and may not wish to cooperate with the UK. However, there are advantages for both sides which are preferable to a long, contentious and potentially damaging Brexit.
The EU would not be losing its second largest state and net contributor, in what previously represented a significant loss of influence and prestige. A Norwegian solution, if agreed, would preserve open trade with the EU single market and passporting rights for the UK.
Before the Brexit Referendum David Cameron had said the UK would have worse terms in the EEA, with no say over policy. The UK never had much of a say over EU policy but as an EEA state it would be less subject to rule by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) or the EU Supreme Court. Fishing rights would also revert back to UK control.
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard says “the EEA would be a temporary waystation for ten years or so, giving us time to negotiate 80 trade deals with the US, China, Japan, India, Mercorsur and others without a gun held to our head.”
That is certainly true. The current perceived risk premium on the UK would all but vanish. Foreign investors in this country would welcome the EEA solution, as would the stock market. Guaranteeing residency rights of EU citizens currently living in this country would help in the EU negotiations and be a net benefit for the UK economy. Non-EU skilled workers invited to this country would be good for business, especially if Mrs May’s ludicrous £2000 per annum, per person charge for this talent was permanently dropped.
(See also: Daniel Hannan: Don’t panic! We can still get a strong deal with the most pro-Brexit House of Commons ever, from Mail Online)
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