Brexit White Paper July 2018 fails to deliver frictionless trade

Unworkable, risky wishful thinking on frictionless Single Market trade

The Government’s recent White Paper entitled The Future Relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union is unworkable, risky wishful thinking as far as frictionless trade with the Single Market (and wider European Economic Area, EEA) is concerned. The White Paper also fails to take cognisance of how the European Union (EU) and Single Market functions, and its direction of travel, which makes it unlikely that the EU can accept it. If the EU did accept these insubstantial, ‘cherry picking’ proposals, businesses and regulatory authorities, etc. would struggle to make them work.

This short examination does not consider Facilitated Customs Arrangements etc. It is difficult to work out exactly what is being proposed and how it will operate. However, it appears to be unproven and to increase the complexity and costs of importing and exporting goods and services.

Vague unreality without any practical solutions

A major shortcoming of the White Paper is the lack of detail.  It is unclear what the various terms used and their proposals actually mean in practice, what they cover and what they omit. There is also no recognition of any problems or limiting issues that need to be addressed, and no consideration of timescales or resources needed to turn the theory into reality.  Important terms not explained include: goods, services, Common Rulebook, Free Trade Area for goods, approvals and authorisations, ‘sit alongside’, ‘open and fair’ and ‘participation in EU agencies’.  These are critical to understanding and avoiding impracticalities, ambiguities, arguments (with the EU) and confusion.

Whilst goods and services are to be treated differently, there is no analysis about how they can be separated, which could often be very impractical.  The only example of a product, vaguely and briefly considered, is mutual recognition of type approval of motor vehicles, which is itself unlikely to be acceptable to the EU.

The EU’s legal basis for Frictionless Trade in Goods is ignored

The White Paper’s aspiration is for frictionless access for goods – a free trade area part in and part outside the Single Market. There would then be one set of approvals and authorisations for goods to be sold in both markets (UK and Single Market). How this will work is unclear given that EU Directives (the EU Acquis) relating to the Single Market governs how it functions.

The EU’s direction of travel (for the Single Market), is towards harmonised standards, regulations, and enforcement or surveillance through a top-down centralised legalistic and bureaucratic framework. This gives the European Commission and agencies ultimate control inside the Single Market.  This is the basis for frictionless trade. The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) incorporates relevant EU Directives into their own body of EFTA/EEA law in order for them to participate in the wider EEA.

Generally there are no deviations from the EU Directives except those permitted within the existing legal regulatory framework.  Any change must be incorporated into EU law first.  Countries outside the Single Market (and wider EEA) are ‘third’ countries effectively outside EU control or surveillance necessitating appropriate measures regarding imports.  The White Paper effectively ignores this and assumes the EU will agree to the changes and the UK exceptionalism being proposed.

The EU’s Directives for Products are ignored

The White Paper does not mention any actual EU/EEA legislation and how it will be affected, nor does it discuss practicalities. There is also no acknowledgement of the EU’s position on trade in goods with ‘third’ countries.  The EU’s legally mandated arrangements to control diseases and parasites etc. in imported livestock, products, plants, packaging etc. from ‘third’ countries are largely glossed over.

Note:    EU’s approach (to products) is outlined in principle in COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL AND THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT Enhancing the Implementation of the New Approach Directives , in more detail in the EU’s Guide to the implementation of directives based on the New Approach and the Global Approach and encapsulated in EU law in REGULATION (EC) No 765/2008 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 9 July 2008 setting out the requirements for accreditation and market surveillance relating to the marketing of products and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 339/93. The EU has also recently spelt out its position, which is consistent with their New and Global Approach Directives, in Notice to stakeholders withdrawal of the United Kingdom and EU rules in the field of industrial products.   The adverse effect of Mrs May’s Brexit on a frequently essential part of this product jigsaw (the work of Notified Bodies for mandatory conformity assessment of products) is explained here.

According to EU law, products of animal origin (meat and meat products) imported into the EU must be inspected (sanitary checks) at Border Inspection Posts (BIPs). For products of plant origin (for plants and plant-derived foods) phytosanitary checks are required at Community Entry Points (CEPs, Designated Points of Entry, DPE).

The White Paper adds a new level of complexity to the Single Market and EEA

The White Paper’s advocacy of regulatory alignment and mutual recognition adds further complexity.  It would inevitably require considerable amendment to existing EU Directives covering a wide range of products and associated production, regulatory and conformity assessment and market surveillance. This is far from straightforward or quick given that requirements are effectively intertwined; change one here and there can be a knock-on effect elsewhere. Then there is the creation of new precedents that produce anomalies elsewhere and situations that can be exploited by others to gain an unfair or unreasonable advantage.

Also, more errors and anomalies are likely to occur when time is short to develop revised legislation, standards, conformity assessments, accreditations and market surveillance processes etc. Obviously it is far from certain that the EU will agree to this in any instances.  If it did, this would impose new uncertainties and risks where before matters were fairly settled and predictable.

No Go Chaos for Nobos and their Conformity Assessments of Products

Notified Bodies need accreditation for carrying out mandatory independent conformity assessment on a wide range of products to be placed on the market in the EEA. They need separate accreditation (Designated Body, Debo) when carrying out assessments relating to national specific or special cases covered by EU/EEA legislation.  The White Paper proposes a Common Rulebook (harmonisation with EU rules) applying to goods to be exported to the Single Market but not to services.  Clearly the work of Nobos and Debos are services falling outside any compliance with the EU Rulebook whatever that vague term is supposed to mean in this context; for example, EU Directives with or with European specifications, mandatory conformity assessment, market surveillance etc.

Under the White Paper’s proposals, a new product could be assessed by a Debo and then exported to the EEA where the Debo’s accreditation and product conformity assessment is currently not recognised. Obtaining this recognition raises a host of practical problems, such as who gives the Debo accreditation, how is the Debo assessed, who keeps the register of accredited Debos and test houses, and what should the Debo now include in its product conformity assessment and certification?  Where an existing product undergoes a material change requiring further or updated assessment, more difficulties will inevitably result in determining whether this is Debo or Nobo work or a combination and who does what.  This complexity and vagueness needs to be resolved or a wide range of UK goods would become non-compliant and could not be exported to the EEA.

The Practical Alternative

Mrs May’s Government is proposing an unworkable Brexit in name only. However, instead it could have opted for a workable real Brexit by remaining temporarily in the Single Market (or wider European Economic Area, EEA) under much more favourable and flexible conditions by re-joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). (Further information see The EFTA/EEA Solution to the Current Brexit Impasse, Brexit Reset, Eureferendum.com, various posts on Campaign for an Independent Britain and affiliates )

The Devil is in the Missing Detail

So far there is little indication that the UK’s negotiators actually understand much, if anything, about the minutiae of the EU Directives and how the EU/EEA functions.  Even if the EU agreed to this White Paper (and this is a very  big ‘If’), the resulting outcome is most likely to be more, largely avoidable confusion all round carrying on for years among customers, suppliers, regulators, conformity assessors (e.g. Notified Bodies) and organisations involved in market surveillance.  The frequent questions would be “Where do we find the requirements?”, “Must we comply with this requirement?”, “What does this requirement actually mean?”, and “How much is this going to cost us?”

In short, the whole document is seriously deficient and likely to be rejected by the EU.

What is the truth of freedom of movement?

Whilst it is often stated that Freedom of Movement is a non-negotiable and a fundamental indivisible principle of the Single Market, the truth is actually far more complex.  The ‘four freedoms’ are not indivisible for countries outside the EU, such as those who are members of the European Economic Area, (EEA).

Furthermore, the EU has made provision in legally binding and proposed agreements unilaterally to control freedom of movement along with the other freedoms of the Single Market.  The UK could do the same if it remained a member of the Single Market (and wider European Economic Area, EEA) by re-joining The European Free Trade Association (EFTA).  The same actually applies to the EU’s proposed draft text to the Withdrawal Agreement.  Thus Mrs May and her government are, at least in this regard, determined to pursue a Brexit strategy (Brexit in name only) which is far worse than what is actually available utilizing existing established agreements.

The EEA Agreement governs the Single Market (and wider EEA)

The operation of the Single Market (and wider EEA) is set by the EEA Agreement, to which all Member States of the EU and EFTA (excluding Switzerland) are signatories. For the EFTA/EEA members, the EEA Agreement is amended by the addition of Annexes and Protocols.  Thus the EFTA countries have bespoke variations on the basic EEA Agreement. EFTA countries also have greater flexibility since powers retained by individual EFTA countries have often been removed from the individual Member States of the EU and transferred to the European Commission or its agencies (acting for the whole EU).  Consequently EU Member States often find they cannot act unilaterally, whilst individual EFTA countries can do so and they make use of this freedom to serve their interests.

Within the EEA Agreement Freedom of Movement is Unilaterally Controllable

The Single Market (and wider EEA), has free movement of goods, persons, services and capital as basic principles. However, the EEA Agreement also includes an opt-out which can be applied unilaterally by EFTA countries (see Chapter 4, Safeguard Provisions, Article 112), but obviously not by Members States of the EU.  It states:

Safeguard Provisions, Article 112

  1. If serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectorial or regional nature liable to persist are arising, a Contracting Party may unilaterally take appropriate measures under the conditions and procedures laid down in Article 113.
  2. Such safeguard measures shall be restricted with regard to their scope and duration to what is strictly necessary in order to remedy the situation. Priority shall be given to such measures as will least disturb the functioning of this Agreement.
  3. The safeguard measures shall apply with regard to all Contracting Parties.

This opt-out is intended to be “temporary” (until a permanent solution is implemented), but nevertheless can be invoked and maintained in the absence of that permanent solution.  It has already been used by Liechtenstein to control immigration and Iceland to control capital flows in the wake of the financial crisis.

The EU’s Ability to Unilaterally Control Freedom of Movement

So useful and/or essential does the EU regard Articles 112 and 114 of the EEA Agreement that, rather than them being toothless window-dressing, it chose to include them virtually unchanged in its draft Withdrawal Agreement, Article 13 (Protocols NI) which states:

Article 13 Safeguards

  1. If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties liable to persist, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate measures. Such safeguard measures shall be restricted with regard to their scope and duration to what is strictly necessary in order to remedy the situation. Priority shall be given to such measures as will least disturb the functioning of this Protocol.
  2. If a safeguard measure taken by the Union or the United Kingdom, as the case may be, in accordance with paragraph 1 creates an imbalance between the rights and obligations under this Protocol, the Union or the United Kingdom, as the case may be, may take such proportionate rebalancing measures as are strictly necessary to remedy the imbalance. Priority shall be given to such measures as will least disturb the functioning of this Protocol.

The EU is intentionally ensuring, whether the UK is in the EEA or not, that the EU can unilaterally restrict immigration into the remaining Member States from the UK. The EU is also agreeing here that the UK can unilaterally restrict immigration from the remaining Member States into the UK.

Implementing the Safeguard Measures Immediately

In the UK, there are permanent economic, infrastructural and societal factors which would justify implementing the existing Safeguard Measures immediately, as of 29th March 2019, when we supposedly leave the EU whilst de facto remaining within the Single Market.  Subsequently it would be prudent to negotiate the introduction of specific clauses to enshrine a right to permanent or longer term control.

Why the untruths about Free Movement?

The kindest explanation as to why Freedom of Movement is misrepresented is that many politicians are actually being economical with the truth, and are avoiding the fuller picture which contradicts their claims.  They may also fail to understand the subtleties of that fuller picture.   This is somewhat obvious in Mrs May’s Lancaster House speech 17th January 2017 where she appears to have accepted some very disingenuous claims about free movement. Here are her words:

But I want to be clear. What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.

European leaders have said many times that membership means accepting the ‘4 freedoms’ of goods, capital, services and people. And being out of the EU but a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country.

Mrs May also appears to fail to understand how the EU and EEA works, including the subordination of the European Court of Justice. These are explained in more detail here with links to further information.

The great tragedy of missed opportunity

This country desperately needs the powers to choose who we should let in and under what circumstances. This was one of the loudest great messages from the Brexit Referendum result. Voters want us to be able to control our borders. To repeat, that power of control is there in legal texts. It could have been grasped by Mrs May and her colleagues in government if they had chosen to do so.   They have chosen – at least up to now – instead a path of uncertainty, cave-ins to the EU and potential chaos.  It is a price the British people should not have to bear.

Is the single market expanding?

With Mrs May having decided to leave the Single Market (and wider European Economic Area, EEA), it could be critical to know if it poses a long term existential threat to our future as a global trading nation.  Whilst in a formal sense the EEA will contract after Brexit, it actually wields considerable informal influence over much global trade. Ignore its ramifications at your peril.  Could then Mrs May’s government, having decided to leave on somewhat disingenuous grounds, that the four freedoms are indivisible, be unaware of this less obvious consequence?

What is the Single Market (or wider EEA)?

The Single Market provides a common mandatory regulatory framework of European Union (EU) directives (laws), standards, compliance or conformity assessment and market surveillance for many products under a centralised legalistic bureaucratic framework. Thus the quality, safety, environmental impact, energy consumption, and integration with other products can meet common (harmonised) criteria; commonly known as Essential Requirements in directives based on the New or Global Approach.  Failure to demonstrate compliance with the Essential Requirements or acceptable (harmonised) standards can prevent a product being placed on the market (in the Single Market or wider EEA) or cause it to be withdrawn.   Demonstrating compliance may require independent conformity assessment and certification; typically carried out by independent test houses and qualified notified bodies (Nobos) which in turn are regulated ultimately by the European Commission (or designated agency).  (Further information on the EEA see here, here and associated links)

What is a product or service?

Unsurprisingly any product and service is much more than just a collection of parts with some kind of functionality. Those parts, materials comprising those parts, associated services, design, production, testing and inspection processes all have to comply with recognisable and authoritative standards.  Whether it is an automobile or safety shoes, there will be standards and reliable means to ensure their compliance, often with some form of mandatory regulation or control.  The alternative to these arrangements is very much the Caveat Emptor principle and an inability to benefit from the accumulated experience of producers, regulators and users.  Costs can also be higher because of a lack of standardisation.

Not all export markets are the same

Some export markets and customers for certain products and services can be very sophisticated, featuring well-developed regulatory frameworks, facilities and knowledgeable, competent, in-house resources. Then it is a matter of complying with their requirements, their specified standards and their regulatory framework.  To offer non-compliant alternatives in the hope that they will be acceptable is to court losing the work to fully-compliant competitors.   However, some exports markets and customers need to rely on external resources and guidance from larger and well-refined markets.  This reliance can be very subtle and render otherwise generally acceptable suppliers and products uncompetitive, or exclude them completely from the market.

The March of Global Standards and the Single Market

Globally accepted standards are great facilitators of international trade.  Where a product is quite complex it certainly helps to know that is complies with standards that you (or the local regulatory authorities) are already familiar with and can trust.   In reality many standards are produced by international bodies and are the same in the UK, Japan or Germany, with perhaps minor national variations. There is also considerable interchange between European Standards (Euronorms) and International Standards.  Hence the expansion of International Standards effectively to supersede national standards and fill obvious needs.

Somewhat less obvious, mandatory regulation is also expanding and effectively following the lead of the more advanced practices.  The Single Market (and wider EEA) is the home of many businesses which are well versed in working to International and European Standards and which follow well-refined conformity and regulatory practices, thus making it somewhat of a low risk trend-setter.  The European Commission is also happy if others (particularly individual non-EU countries) follow its lead (The Brussels Effect), while for those planning to join the EU, it is necessary to do so.  Also, there can be formal agreements which effectively extend the EU’s mandatory regulatory practices into particular products and markets outside the EEA. In summary, it is a complex, ever evolving subject.

World-leading product but still  excluded from an export market

It is not surprising, therefore, to be confronted in an export market with a plethora of well-known European and/or International Standards, along with conformity assessment or regulation modelled on EU/EEA practices.  Such imitation can extend as far as using documentation that in part has clearly been re-badged from previous use inside the EEA; it keeps the costs and risks of preparation down.  It can also be advantageous to reputable organisations to point out that they vigorously follow these often high and demanding, standards and practices, while at the same time being  ‘outside the loop’ can be detrimental to other companies.

Vendors/Suppliers don’t argue with potential customers in export markets

Being ‘unfairly’ excluded from profitable business rarely leads to robust or legal challenges against the potential customer by the unsuccessful vendor; as a minimum, very deep pockets are needed which  small enterprises obviously do not possess.  It is even rarer for unsuccessful vendors eventually to win the work after having caused delays, bad feeling and extra costs.  Once excluded because of non-conformity it is difficult and costly for a company to get back into its given export market again. This is especially the case with capital goods or complex products; re-design, re-testing and conformity re-assessment don’t come cheap.

The Invisible Competitor

The subtle influence of the Single Market (and wider EEA) extends far beyond the borders of its Member States.  This extent of that influence is impossible to determine. Even knowing it is there usually requires considerable perception, industry knowledge and exposure to the export markets involved.  Yet this influence can make it more difficult or even impossible for organisations (especially smaller enterprises) that don’t follow the EEA’s standards, conformity assessment and regulatory practices to do business in some export markets.

In future, unless there is a re-think of the Government’s Brexit policy,  the UK may face problems in accessing some highly attractive export markets outside mainland Europe because of the reach of the Single Market and EEA.

Mrs May:- a product of the past

The Deeper Malaise behind Mrs May’s Inept Handling of Brexit

The European Union Carried on by Other Means

Mrs May is a product of the past and this shows in her poor political leadership and shambolic handling of the Article 50 negotiations, which are currently going in the direction of a Brexit in name only.  The past to which I refer is the culture of increasing political deference to the European Union (EU) and dependency which goes back to Edward Heath and has been continued by subsequent Conservative and Labour prime ministers up to the present day.  Over a period of years, it has evolved into a paradigm (or conceptual framework of ideas, assumptions and perceived wisdom) which set the direction for many subsequent policies and actions.  The only notable exception to this past paradigm is (perhaps) Mrs Thatcher who claimed to be inspired by free market economists Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. Unfortunately, only at the end of her premiership, for example, in her famous “no, no, no” speech  did she stand up to the EUs centralising control freaks and arrogant ideologues and only after being deposed from office did she advocate leaving the EU.

Escape from (conservative) Reality into the EU

At the heart of any notionally conservative party is a major dilemma for its strategists and leaders:- how to expand its popular base beyond the core support of the conservative minded, the sort of people who make up the majority of party members.  This means, in effect, developing a second unique selling proposition rather than making traditional conservatism popular among many.  Tory strategists believed that they needed to project an image, though not necessarily a reality, of eclectic, inclusive modernity.  At one time, the EU appeared to provide this modernity. It could, therefore, be accepted for political expediency even if it contradicted core values or British national interests.

The EU comfort zone for Politicians and Public Servants

For any prime minister, regardless of political label – and also for the Civil Service – the EU provides a useful comfort zone.  There is the appearance of eclectic modernity, a ‘world stage’ on which to strut, a means of escaping responsibility and the respectful acceptance by equals and their subordinates.  Simple, just follow the EU’s (mainly greater German) social, political, economic, regulatory, monetary and fiscal lead.  Who wouldn’t find this reassuring especially as it offers an escape from political turbulence and the need to be competent while providing a means of avoiding blame should any major mistakes become public?

The EU’s corrupting comfort zone

The uninviting (and courageous) alternative to the EU’s comfort zone requires a Prime Minister who is to be accused by opponents of being insular, parochial, jingoistic, elitist, ‘out in the cold’, ‘out of step’ with the EU and/or ‘behind the times’.  Small wonder Edward Heath’s successors became such EU-centric ‘modernity’ idealists who were prepared to deceive the public whilst selling out British national interests and sovereignty.  Mrs May would need to be a very determined person to escape the strong force of this ingrained political behaviour, going back over forty years.

The EU undermines UK Governmental competence

As ever more activities of government were transferred to the EU over the last forty odd years there has been a hollowing out of competence, though not necessarily of numbers, in the Civil Service. The result is that in many fields the expertise and motivation required by the government of a sovereign country no longer exists within the UK.  As a newly-independent country it will take time to re-establish missing expertise and then achieve positive results in our national interest.

The Referendum Vote for Brexit caused a paradigm shift

Times have changed.  The 17,410,742 voters who backed Brexit in the 2016 Referendum have decided the EU is not the future which they want for our country.  This is a major paradigm shift with wide-ranging long-term implications. The EU is now the past and modernity is being redefined as embracing exciting future possibilities outside its claustrophobic clutches.  The new modernity has not yet solidified into a paradigm and can potentially include anything from re-invigorating democracy with a more collaborative form of government to re-discovering world leading skills based on long standing national strengths, heritage and culture. For more on this, see The National CV .

Mrs May is failing to adapt to the new Brexit inspired modernity

Mrs May is having considerable difficulty elucidating a new post-Brexit vision to accord with the Referendum’s paradigm shift and resulting new modernity.   She is stuck in the obsolete paradigm. Dependence and deference to the EU is so ingrained into the structure of No. 10 Downing Street that Mrs May can’t let go of the past and the old EU-centric view of modernity.  There is little or no evidence of her using Brexit as a great facilitator for tackling the big issues facing our country. Instead, her mindset is  rooted in the spin, language, actions and policies of the past.

Talk of ‘A deep and special relationship with our European partners’ is more a cry for continuing belonging than a confident assertion of independence.  Worse still, the EU has been allowed to make the running with Mrs May, Mr Davis and the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union repeatedly caving in to its increasingly unreasonable demands. At the moment, the worst legacy of these cave-ins is the appalling Transition Deal which would make this country into a temporary then a permanent EU vassal state. There is also, to highlight a few others, the surrendering of UK fisheries, defence and defence procurement to EU bureaucrats and the enthusiasm to allow British citizens to be subject to the worst justice systems in the EU through the retention of the European Arrest Warrant.

The EEA/EFTA Paradox

Whilst obviously being unwilling to leave control by the political EU, Mrs May somewhat enigmatically chose to leave the existing frictionless trading simplicity of membership of the Single Market (and wider European Economic Area, EEA).  She has never explained why this reckless decision was made without a practical plan for leaving the EU which would still allow us to retain near frictionless trade.

However, gullibility and ignorance are hinted at in her Lancaster House speech 17th January 2017 where she appears to have accepted the disingenuous claims of the EU leaders regarding the inviolate nature of the four freedoms.  In reality, the EU is happy to break these principles when convenient so to do. For example, the EU’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement, Article 13 (Protocols NI) allows the EU or the UK, amongst other things, unilaterally to restrict immigration from the other party (to the agreement). In other words the EU can restrict immigration into the remaining Member States from the UK, and the UK can restrict immigration from the remaining Member States into the UK.

Nowhere to hide

A policy of spin and handing over more and more political decisions to the EU no longer cuts it post-Referendum.  Endless vacuous mantras and blaming the EU for failing to deliver a successful, opportunity filled Brexit is sounding increasingly unconvincing outside the Westminster bubble.  With time running out, the country needs to know the truth. Mrs May probably already knows what she must do to save Brexit from being in name only and to prevent trade with the EU facing severe disruption.  The only viable option is to re-join the free nations of Europe in The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) whilst temporarily remaining in the single market under much more flexible and favourable conditions in a bespoke version of the EEA Agreement.  (further information see  The EFTA/EEA Solution to the Current Brexit Impasse, Brexit Reset, Eureferendum.com, various posts on Campaign for an Independent Britain and affiliates)

Moving onto this escape route (from the EU with the least potential disruption to existing trade) in the coming crisis will need effective crisis management and something like a modern day Brexit Operation Dynamo.  Will Mrs May deliver or should the Conservative Party expeditiously choose someone else who can?

Brexit’s ‘Operation Dynamo’ via the EFTA/EEA Escape Route

Fast action is urgently needed to save Brexit

An improvised emergency operation is needed to extract our country from the European Union (EU) just as in the early summer of 1940 the original Operation Dynamo was required to rescue the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from occupied Europe.  And, as with the original, it will include a motley collection of ordinary people helping out under professional direction, since Mrs May’s government cannot do it alone.  As the days pass, the urgency becomes greater and our plight more desperate. There is no tangible Brexit progress under Mrs May’s leadership and with the rule-bound control-freak EU, ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’. The two options seem to be to accept the EU’s terms or let highly integrated trade with the Single Market (and wider European Economic Area, EEA) face huge disruption after we leave.

Mrs May has boxed us into an ever smaller dead end

Mrs May has seemingly left herself with no options apart from accepting the EU’s increasingly demanding terms in order to deliver frictionless trade with the Single Market and wider EEA, along with a soft border in Ireland. All imaginary technical solutions and customs partnerships or unions have already been rejected by the EU. In any case the government doesn’t have a stellar record of delivering complex IT projects to specification, on time and within budget. Further, it is membership of the Single Market (or EEA) that delivers near frictionless trade, between members not participation in a customs union.

Brexit in Name Only is coming

Brexit in name only with the UK firstly a temporary and then a permanent EU vassal state can be the only outcome unless Mrs May changes direction. This is the case whether or not she caves in to the EU’s demands. Even if she got her flimsy free trade agreement (FTA) and whimsical mutual recognition of standards, the concessions required from her by Brussels would still mean that we are a vassal state in everything but name, with the EU able to ‘turn the screws’ at any time. And frictionless trade with an FTA is a fantasy.

The EFTA/EEA Escape Route from EU Occupied Europe

Rather than being trapped under EU hegemony, which is what Mrs May is leading us towards, we could remain in the Single Market under different, much more flexible conditions by re-joining the free nations of Europe in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).  The EFTA/EEA route is a far better way of enabling us on 29th March 2019 to leave the political EU and its alien, autocratic straightjacket whilst still trading, as now, with the Single Market. As a temporary measure. it could buy time for FTA negotiations. (see also here, Brexit Reset, Eureferendum.com)

The EEA Agreement is the key to EFTA/EEA participation

The EEA Agreement, with its Annexes and Protocols, determines how the EFTA countries participate in the EEA. This agreement is regularly amended to suit the interests of the participating EFTA countries – each country has its own variation.  Hence by taking the existing off-the-shelf versions we could adapt them to produce our own bespoke version to suit our needs and then at a later date, revise it as many times as we so desire to correct errors and customise it further to suit our needs and as conditions change.

The Free Nations of EFTA are Our Brexit Rescue Partners

Any EFTA/EEA negotiation, unlike the EU Article 50 negotiations, would be a collaboration not an adversarial confrontation, and would be conducted within a different environment.  Such a negotiation  would involve amending the EEA Agreement to improve it, in both our and our EFTA partners’ interests.  And their expertise built up over many years would be invaluable.  This would also go some way to making amends for Mrs May’s betrayal of EFTA by deciding to leave the Single Market (and wider EEA), and leaving them out of any negotiations.

Key Items for the UK EFTA/EEA Agreement

We need our version of the EEA Agreement positively to address our major national interests, in particular, near frictionless trade and control of immigration. Frictionless trade is mainly about dealing with technical issues so that existing arrangements can be retained without introducing new barriers.  Control of immigration concerns strengthening existing arrangements in the EEA Agreement (Article 112, the Safeguard Measures). These would already allow us unilaterally to manage immigration.  However, in the UK there are permanent economic, infrastructural and societal factors which would justify introducing specific clauses to strengthen the right to retain permanent control of migration.

Stakeholder Working Groups for frictionless Trade

Delivering near frictionless trade is where the bulk of the work in amending the EEA Agreement would be needed, as it must cover a wide range of economic activities from aeronautics to zoology.  This is obviously beyond the competence of Mrs May, Mr Davis or the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union. Yet untapped real expertise exists amongst the various (industry) stakeholders who are already familiar with relevant EU/EEA legislation and working practices.  These people would be highly motivated to solve any issues, once they recognise the government’s limitations, since their livelihoods often, in part at least, depend on frictionless trade.  Multiple working groups from industry can function concurrently, whilst learning from each other and ‘comparing notes’ to speed up their ‘learning curves’.  The inclusion of public consultations and publication of drafts could add considerable transparency to their activities, whilst moving the process away from destructive political in-fighting.

Preventing Abuse of the EEA Agreement

The EU doesn’t want us back as a troublesome full member state. As an EU vassal state, they can get everything they want from us.  However, it would be prudent to send a strong message to EU ‘fifth columnists’ that the EFTA/EEA agreement cannot be subverted – that it must always be used for its original purpose to provide access to the Single Market for free European nations (i.e., those outside the EU).

Brexit’s Operation Dynamo can be made to work

It is all straightforward project management, not rocket science, and much less risky than Mrs May’s fraught and furtive Article 50 negotiations. For starters, it need to:  address resourcing requirements; build competences; set objectives, priorities and timetables; manage risks and co-ordinate efforts. This is merely following a systematic document preparation process, which can be adapted to build in various procedures, checks, controls and risk mitigation measures. Many industry specialists do this sort of thing all the time, for example, under the aegis of the British Standards Institution. There may also need to be continuity planning to keep trade moving under existing arrangements until the EFTA/EEA bespoke UK EEA Agreement can be fully adopted. This would not be difficult since we would be staying in the EEA anyway.  Work carried out now and resources developed could also be useful in the years to come in developing international trade and reforming the Single Market.

Other Lessons from the Original Operation Dynamo

The original Operation Dynamo was a collective effort of improvisation in a short time – it worked better than expected in a national crisis. It provided a hard lesson about the pitfalls of insular complacency and laid foundations for a future national cooperative effort.  A new crisis is coming as a consequence of Mrs May’s shambolic negotiations and recklessness in deciding to leave the Single Market without a plan for frictionless trade.  Just as in 1940, we need a committed, courageous and practical prime minister. Is Mrs May the person? I’ll let you decide!

The EFTA/EEA Solution to the Current BREXIT Impasse

Implications of current Brexit negotiations failing

Mrs May’s government, without any practical Brexit plan, has created a mess and time is running out. Without a practical solution to the soft border in Ireland there can be no transition deal and, therefore, no withdrawal agreement.   Without one, the UK would leave the European Union (EU) on 29th March 2019 with no arrangements in place to continue trading with the Single Market (Internal Market or wider European Economic Area, EEA).  Such a situation (often called ‘falling off a cliff edge’) would be hugely disruptive to the existing highly integrated trade with the EEA and would impact the wider UK economy.

Government Proposals lead to Brexit in Name Only

However, should the government succeed in getting the EU to accept its proposed solution(s) to the Irish border and to wider trade with the EU, the outcome is likely to be Brexit in name only. Worse, the UK would become firstly a powerless temporary vassal state and then a permanent one under increasingly arduous EU imposed conditions, such as sacrificing the UK fishing industry, surrendering UK defence and defence procurement to the EU, paying substantial amounts into the EU budget, accepting a continuation of free movement (uncontrolled EU immigration, with extra rights for EU citizens), unconditional compliance with all existing and future EU laws, remaining under the EU’s European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Mrs May’s approach to Brexit is the Problem

Yet this unwanted situation is of Mrs May’s making by her seriously reckless decision, first mentioned in her Lancaster House speech, 17th January 2017, to leave the Single Market on Brexit day. Whilst leaving may be desirable in the long term, it is hardly practical now and her proposed solutions of mutual recognition of standards and a free trade agreement look increasingly unrealistic and counter-productive.  Her wishful thinking, dithering and failure to understand how the EU and EEA works, have only made matters worse.

A simple EFTA/EEA Solution to Mrs May’s Brexit Problems

Many of the problems Mrs May has created can be solved by remaining within the Single Market (even temporarily) via a different, more flexible route.  Such a route is available if we re-join The European Free Trade Association, EFTA, assuming they would have us back.  Whilst this cannot be taken for granted, it would be advantageous to the existing EFTA/EEA countries (Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein – Switzerland is outside the EEA) giving the overall grouping greater robustness.  The EU has hinted that it could accept this as an option to achieve an orderly Brexit.

Criticisms of EFTA/EEA (aka The Norway Option) can often be resolved through research using original or reputable sources via the internet (e.g. here).  However, there will always remain the opportunity for the EFTA/EEA option or any other suggestions to be misrepresented by the unscrupulous or ignorant.

EFTA is a Trading Association without political aspirations

Originally set up by, among various countries, the UK, EFTA is not a stepping stone to EU membership or even to associate membership of the EU. EFTA existed before the creation of the Single Market. As its name suggests, it was  – and indeed is – purely a trading bloc. However, EFTA countries can participate in the Single Market on the basis of the EEA Agreement.

EEA Agreement is Flexible and Customisable

The basic EEA Agreement  is amended from time to time (through additional Annexes and Protocols) as it applies to each of the EFTA members. It is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach and is customised to fit each’s requirements.  Thus we could get a bespoke agreement by taking and amending the existing ‘off the self’ versions.

Control of EU Immigration into the UK

Article 112 (the Safeguard Measures) of the EEA Agreement provides a mechanism for the UK unilaterally to control immigration from the EU. Similar wording has already been copied by the EU into their draft Withdrawal Agreement (Article 13, Protocols relating to Northern Ireland) effectively allowing the EU unilaterally to limit immigration into the EU from the UK.

Agriculture and Fishing are outside the EEA

The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy are excluded from the EEA Agreement. We could therefore regain control of our Exclusive Economic Zone  next March without having to ask the EU.

Laws relevant to trade in the EEA

The EU acquis (or body of laws) relevant to trade comprises about 25% of the total EU acquis and in 90% of cases reportedly originates from higher (global) bodies.  We would need to comply anyway in order to trade elsewhere, unless we chose to leave organisations such as the World Trade Organisation.  The rest of the EU acquis does not apply unless we choose to adopt any which we could modify as required at a later date.

Almost  frictionless trade within the EEA

It is membership of the Single Market (or wider EEA) and not membership of a customs union that delivers nearly frictionless trade with the EU for countries like Norway. This is because each member is working to common standards and processes (harmonised) for product, production, market surveillance and conformity assessment under a centralised system of bureaucratic control by the EU.  The EU’s Guide to the implementation of directives based on the New Approach and the Global Approach explains what applies to many products.

External Border Controls protect the EEA

By contrast, accessing the EEA from outside its external borders involves complying with regulations, inspections and testing, processes and procedures, external tariffs, customs checks/clearance, VAT etc. intended for dealing with ‘third countries’.   These provisions, effectively border controls, also manage safety and other unacceptable risks to EEA members, consumers and enterprises involved with ‘imports’ and are sometimes protectionist.

There also need to be arrangements to control diseases and parasites etc. in imported livestock, products, plants, packaging etc. from ‘third’ countries.  According to EU law, products of animal origin (meat and meat products) imported into the EU must be inspected (sanitary checks) at Border Inspection Posts (BIPs). For products of plant origin (for plants and plant-derived foods) phytosanitary checks are required at Community Entry Points (CEPs, Designated Ports of Entry). It is a nightmare and this is what we would face next March if Mrs May persists in her stubbornness.

EEA Membership allows participation in critical trade related decision making

A mechanism exists for EFTA members to participate in shaping decisions by the EU, which is described here.  Unlike EU Member States, EFTA members also freely participate in global bodies helping to form standards and practices before these are passed down to the EU for implementation.

Free Trade Agreements

Both EFTA as a whole and individual EFTA countries are free to make their own trade agreements, unlike Member States of the EU or of its customs union.  EFTA countries do not operate common external tariffs.

EEA Membership is Free

For EFTA countries, EEA membership is effectively free although they do ‘voluntarily’ contribute to the specific agencies they participate in and to development grants. We could pick and choose.

Judicial Oversight of EFTA/EEA by the EFTA Court

The EFTA Court is independent of the ECJ although it can take into consideration or follow ECJ rulings. It does not take precedence over national courts enabling the UK, if we so choose, to ignore any of its judgments.  The European Commission could object but we could then ignore it too.

Quitting the EEA at any time

Article 127 of the EEA Agreement covers the process which involves giving 12 months’ notice.  Unlike leaving the EU, no payments and negotiations are required.

Further Information

The EFTA/EEA option and Brexit debate in general has often suffered from misunderstandings or errors and mischievous misrepresentation effectively inhibiting rational discussion.  The following are useful sources of research information: Brexit Reset, Eureferendum.com, various posts on Campaign for an Independent Britain and affiliates.  For consequences of a No Deal situation, see the EU’s Notices to Stakeholders under Brexit preparedness.

The Way Ahead to Independent Sovereign Nation Trading

The EFTA/EEA route could salvage the faltering Brexit process, at least as an interim measure. It would facilitate leaving the political, centralised, anti-democratic construct of the EU whilst still retaining (and expanding) almost frictionless trade.  It could also provide a springboard for a highly successful trading relationship for independent sovereign nations in Europe.