Britain needs to play it smarter

There is some chatter on the web as to whether Brexit can be parked. Personally I don’t see that happening. Call it a hunch but I think the process has taken on a life of its own independent of the politicians and they lack the coherence to influence it in either direction. I can, however, see Brexit transmogrifying into something that is neither Brexit nor EU membership.

The repeal bill process is not an afternoon at the photocopier. It’s a major feat of legal engineering and it is going to take years. We can pass certain bills that technically mean we have left but the Brexit limbo could be of such a composition where making the final switchover in various sectors, ending EU supremacy, would be viewed as so destructive that it would go into some sort of review, much like TTIP has, where it exists as a concept but it’s not actually going anywhere until it’s taken off the shelf and dusted down.

We have heard much about the possibility of an accidental Brexit where we crash out without a deal, but there is also a possibility of “accidental remain” where our lack of direction and inability to agree on anything leaves it hanging in the wind.

The only way I see to avoid this fate is for the government to face the reality that the EEA is the fastest and most practical means of leaving the EU. It doesn’t matter if the EEA is suboptimal. It has the singular merit of being out of the EU.

We can quibble until the end of time over the various compromises the UK would have to make but since the advent of the WTO agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade there is little likelihood of reaching that elusive regulatory sovereignty. That issue we can address later. To my mind it is secondary to ending EU political union.

If we do not want to drift into a Brexit limbo then we need to see some decisive action from the government. All we are seeing right now is dithering, pretending it’s all there for the taking when what we’re actually doing is reinventing the wheel – and a poor copy at that.

The basic mistake is the belief that the Brexit process itself is the opportunity to do everything all at once. This is a classic misnomer. If anything the Article 50 process is a lengthy admin chore we must go through before we can start looking at systemic reforms. The only safe and sensible way to leave is by reverse engineering our membership and that means the first step has to be quite close to EU membership. It wouldn’t even matter if post-Brexit absolutely nothing had changed. What matters is that, having completed Article 50, we would have the power to start changing things on our own schedule.

This is the bit where us leavers need to get real. All of us have a strong dislike of the EU, but we cannot say that everything about economic integration is bad. What matters is that we preserve what is worth keeping and build on it. It would be a grave mistake to sacrifice any European trade in the belief that trading with the rest of the world will compensate. It really won’t.

That though, is going to require some adaptation to our ideas. Like it or not, the EU has us over a barrel. As the regional regulatory superpower it does call the shots, and since the EU has a number of other countries hooked into regulatory harmonisation by way of FTAs we are going to find the wiggle room for an independent UK régime will be next to nil.

Ultimately we are going to have to change our attitude to the EU in order to make a success of it. The hostile and confrontational tone is not doing us any good and it’s dangerous because we will need the EU’s extensive assistance in borrowing their third party cooperation agreements and trade deals. Secondly, since we won’t be going all out for regulatory sovereignty, our trade policy will have to be a collaborative and complementary policy to that of the EU.

As we have seen the EU likes to get bogged down in deep and comprehensive bundled deals which take a number of years and very often get tied up in technical detail at the last minute over soft cheeses or formaldehyde content in furniture. Despite this method causing a number of hang-ups for CETA and the demise of TTIP, they don’t seem to have learned. There are other ways.

What we can do is look at effects based trade policy. As a foreign policy objective we want to reduce the push factors that drive migration. In order to do that we need to get the poorest countries trading. We are told by Suella Fernandes that Brexit means we can reduce tariffs for Lesser Developed Countries. This fails on three counts in that for a long time the UK will maintain the existing tariff schedules, LDC’s already have tariff free access under the Anything But Arms agreement – and finally, it’s non-tariff barriers which stand in the way.

Ultimately LDCs struggle to meet stringent standards. Jacob Rees-Mogg and the likes would have it that we can trade away our safety standards but that invites a deluge of counterfeit and dangerous goods. Consumers won’t wear it. Our mission is to use our aid budget for technical assistance to ensure that they can meet regulatory requirements for export. Not only does that improve their ability to trade with the UK it gives them access to the European market as well.

Effectively we would be improving access to the single market for everyone. The benefit to us is the eventual slowdown in migration but also more trade means more opportunities for UK fintech and business services. Something our economy is geared toward in ways that France and Germany are not.

By acting in this way we have no real need to get bogged down in comprehensive bilateral talks as the EU does. What matters is we are enabling trade and paving the way for the EU to forge deals, to which we can be a party. Sector by sector we can improve the viability of African trade at a speed the EU is incapable of.

As much as this approach is in the cooperative spirit, little by little it removes the EU’s excuses for excluding poorer countries and in so doing we make allies and friends with countries with whom we cooperate. From there we can forge sectoral alliances to further pressure the EU into liberalisation and perhaps changing its stagnant trade practices.

All of this is quite futile though if we maintain an adversarial attitude to the EU. If we leave the single market we actually surrender an ace in the hole for our trade strategy while also losing the opportunity to expand and enhance it – and wrest it out of EU control. Moving entirely out of the EU sphere leaves us hobbled in Europe and pecking at scraps elsewhere.

I wish I could report otherwise but it’s time eurosceptics faced facts. The world got complicated while we were in our EU slumber. The beast we helped create is a power in its own right with its own gravitational pull. What is done cannot be undone. What we can do is leverage our position as an agile free trading country to strengthen the global rules based system and drag the EU out of its protectionist instincts. If we can do that we solve a number of problems not only for the UK but Europe as a whole.

Photo by (Mick Baker)rooster

The great trade muddle

“We are leaving the European Union… We are leaving the Single Market… We are leaving the Customs Union.” Theresa May has repeated these phrases on numerous occasions since her Lancaster House speech in January.  Only last week, Steve Baker, the new Brexit minister, insisted that there would be no watering down of the Brexit strategy. “It’s like putting blood in the water to even talk about the EEA,” he said. “We don’t want to be a rule taker, for all the reasons that David Cameron gave during the referendum. We mustn’t take up some of those ideas.”

The Customs Union is a red herring. It never came up during the referendum debate last year and, one suspects, it has only re-surfaced recently because some people may well not know the difference between it and the Single Market.

The Single Market is another matter. It is not true, as suggested by a number of senior EU figures  including Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator, that the four “freedoms of movement”  – goods, services, capital and people – are indivisible.  They may be for EU member states, but not for the non-EU countries in EFTA. Iceland imposed restrictions on the movement of capital when its banks collapsed and Liechtenstein still imposes restrictions on immigration from the EU. Furthermore, no Brexit campaigner suggested that the “Norway Option” or even the “Liechtenstein Solution” should be anything other than an interim arrangement to get us safely through the EU’s exit door within the Article 50 timescale.

It is certainly not an ideal arrangement, and some leave campaigners, including CIB Committee member Ian Kealey, have offered a number of reasons why it should be avoided even as a temporary solution.  Carolyn Fairbairn, the Director General of the Confederation of British Industry, which represents large employers,  has nonetheless been pushing hard for us to adopt this approach. Some leavers are naturally suspicious of an organisation which campaigned for us to stay in the EU, arguing that the real motive of the CBI is to stop us leaving the EU at all. For all the objections to re-joining EFTA and accessing the Single Market via the EEA agreement, the fact is, countries which use this model are most definitely outside the EU as this helpful comparison by CIB Committee member Anthony Scholefield illustrates

Mrs May, however, has not shown any enthusiasm for this route, although she mentioned the possibility of an interim arrangement as far back as November of last year, without going into any details. Her  recent pronouncements have been very much about the long term, stating her desire to sign a “bold and ambitious” trade deal with the EU by March 2019 and only yesterday, at the G20 summit in Hamburg, she said she wanted a “deep and special partnership with the EU, a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, so that we can continue to trade with the European Union. That’s not just in our interests in the interest of the other 27 member states as well.”

Fair enough, but only two days ago, Michel Barnier said that “There will be no business as usual.” To underscore the point, he later continued, “I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits – that is not possible.”

It has been argued that many other countries trade with the Single Market without being members of it. This is true, but they do not get 100% access nor of the benefits. There will inevitably be obstacles. Most people who have looked at this complex subject accept that being outside the Single Market will involve some loss of trade access to the EU. The big question is whether or not they can be minimalised.  The Bruges Group has come up with an alternative which, its authors claim, can be implemented in eighteen months and which would address the main concerns of business, including non-tariff barriers. However, it does not deny the presence of significant obstacles.

We do not know whether or not this report is being digested by the Civil Servants of David Davis’ department. What we can say is that there has been precious little comment from the government on its  proposals regarding this important subject. To date, the Bruges Group proposal is the most detailed study of a non-EEA  solution to the trade conundrum which would avoid the need for any interim arrangement.  If it isn’t going to be adopted but something better has been produced, it clearly hasn’t reached the ears of the CBI or some other concerned politicians who advocate our remaining in the EEA.

What is worrying is the lack of a detailed response to these concerns. Could it be that even a year on from the referendum, the Government still doesn’t have any idea of what its Brexit trade strategy should be? When we joined the EEC (as it was) over forty years ago, businesses were given increasingly detailed guidance, starting over a year before entry. If the transition to independence is to be seamless, businesses need adequate notice to comply with whatever the new arrangements will be. Regulation has become a lot more complex since 1973 and the process of informing them of what needs to be done will surely need to start no later than March next year.

With some economists suggesting that the UK economy is slowing, some leave campaigners have expressed a concern that Brexit may not actually happen given the additional challenges which lie ahead. We do not believe this to be the case as any backtracking on Brexit would be suicidal for the government and the Conservative Party. Nonetheless, the Article 50 clock is ticking away and if the government is still in a muddle about trade, we may end up going down the EEA/EFTA route as an “off the peg” solution which, due to time constraints, could end up by default as the only way of preventing a “cliff edge” scenario in March 2019.

Drifting in Brexit Limbo

It is still government policy to seek a comprehensive partnership agreement with the EU as a third country. Already we are seeing lobbying for pharmaceuticals to continue participating in the single market. The government will concede on this if it does not want to lose our pharmaceuticals industry. No doubt our aviation sector will want to continue participating on more or less the same terms. We will be seeking to ensure manufactured goods and foodstuffs travel unhindered into the EU. The automotive sector will push for whatever it can get to avoid tariffs and rules of origin. And so on and so forth.

By the time this government gets as far as negotiating our future relationship, it will have a long list of things it wants to keep the same. We will also find that the practicalities of intricate policies mean that change is barely possible and largely undesirable. This sets the stage for a long and drawn out negotiation as to our future relationship.

But this time it will dawn on even the thickest of MPs that an interim agreement is necessary. That in itself would be a serious and lengthy undertaking. That is precisely why it is not going to happen. Why should the EU commit ever more of its runtime to negotiating two comprehensive and complex packages – one of which being time limited? The ultimatum will that be that we either drop out with no deal or stay in the EU on more or less the same terms until a future agreement can be concluded.

That is, of course, unless we move into the EEA/Efta position in order to expedite our exit. We will probably find this in itself is a major diplomatic and legal undertaking and once that is done we will find there is actually no point in reinventing the wheel, nor is there any particular obligation for the EU to bother. Moreover, Efta states have little to gain from the disruption for what is only a temporary arrangement. Their view will likely be that we’re either in or out.

It therefore seems obvious that the EEA should be our first port of call with a view to being a long term part of the single market, using the systems within the EEA agreement to tailor it to our needs. The alternative is to stay in the EU in a Brexit limbo, slowly bleeding from uncertainty only for us to pass some years later into an inferior relationship that we will have to rebuild over many years.

It would appear, however, that this realisation eludes the powers that be, and thanks to the power vacuum at the heart of government, we can expect this to drag on, feeding the uncertainty and eroding our choices. With all of our political capital spent, with our minuscule leverage squandered, we will be forced to take whatever we are given. That may even be a conversion of the interim EU membership into the permanent status of being a non-voting member. Precisely where we didn’t want to be.

It was always The Leave Alliance view that the EEA was suboptimal but it does have the chief merit of getting us out of the EU. We also took the view that the EEA, preserving most of the trade integration, would save us from the damage caused by uncertainty and the economic impact of leaving would be manageable. It seems, though, that this message, having met fierce resistance, will not get through.

Though the ultra Brexiteers share some considerable blame, it is as much the fault of the media who have been unable to grasp the mechanics of Brexit, along with a government which is impervious to messages from the outside. Ultimately this is the result of two factors.

The hard right of the Tory party are wedded to some woefully simplistic ideas as to how trade is done, taking their advice from Legatum Institute who will tell them pretty much whatever they want to hear if it means they get their feet under the table. Collectively they are fixated with tariffs and are unable to see the larger picture, treating non tariff barriers and regulatory systems as a mere afterthought.

In normal circumstances we would have a sufficiently competent media who could rip through this self-delusion, but having pruned their experience journalists, the closest the media gets to expertise is the Financial Times, itself incapable of bringing any clarity to the debate and largely tainted by a metropolitan bias. It has not earned the right to be heeded.

The second factor is that having deleted the discipline of trade from our political horizons by way of being in the EU we simply don’t have an institutional memory of it and our politicians haven’t in any way been connected with the real business of international trade negotiations. This is why we should never have joined.

Further still our post Brexit trade policy will be inept largely because it is viewed as a separate undertaking from politics, foreign policy and international development aid. It stands as an abstract pursuit, largely geared toward the maximisation of trade volumes, divorced from cultural and political objectives. It is an entirely technocratic domain.

Ultimately, Brexit is a mess of difficult choices and trade-offs between commerce and sovereignty. The EU is an elaborate and complex web of rules, many of them protectionist where moving to the other side of those defensive measures harms us considerably. As much as it is difficult to prove that new trade deals will compensate for lost EU trade, the EU has ways of making sure that they won’t. Rules of Origin being one of them. These are the realities we must face up to.

And herein lies the problem. For Conservative leavers who believe in “free trade”, Brexit is an economic venture and a chance to snub the EU. They fail to take account of the fact that the EU is a regulatory and economic superpower and the UK is not. They are working from a faulty definition of free trade and are failing to look at the bigger picture. This is why Brexit will hurt far more than it was ever meant to.

For us realists Brexit was never an economic silver bullet. The Leave Alliance was keen to point out that Brexit would be a process and that there would be an economic cost. The point though, was to end political union with the EU and to put the brakes on “ever closer union”. That is our first objective and the most important one. To end the supremacy of the EU in British affairs and to repatriate decision making. If we can make a good go of trade then that is a happy outcome, but that is more a long term concern. Our first priority is to get out of the EU with our hide intact and to ensure that we do not burn our bridges.

The chances of that now seem ever more remote. The appointment of Steve Baker as junior Brexit secretary, a man who calls for the EU to be “wholly torn down” is entirely the wrong message to send. Not least since he is a devotee of Legatum’s panglossian nonsense. Thanks to the obstinacy and ignorance of the ultra-Brexiteers, Brexit is going to hurt a lot more than it ever should have – if we manage to get out at all.

 

Photo by Smabs Sputzer

Brexit was never an economic proposition

If there is one universal truth about we eurosceptics it is that, aside from hating the EU, we cannot agree on anything. Over the last three years I have had more arguments with Brexiteers than I have remainers – and made more enemies on the Brexit side than remain.

The crucial bone of contention is the mode of leaving the EU. Anything that it not “hard Brexit” is denounced. There are many who believe that Brexit is simple and that there is no cause for delay. I wish that were true. Worse than that, though, are those who know it not to be simple but maintain the pretence that it is. I have no time for intellectual dishonesty.

I am also less enthused by Brexiteers who insist that Brexit is an economic miracle waiting to happen. It isn’t. Trade is a fiendishly complex endeavour and we will doubtlessly have to march double time just to get back to where we are. All of our present trade relations are via the EU and restoring and optimising those links will take time.

Personally I see no reason to make an economic argument for Brexit. It is not an economic proposition – and if there is one thing we can all agree on it is that Brexit is ultimately in the interests of democracy. The economy is entirely secondary.

At one point I might have made the case that Brexit will bring about cheaper food, clothing and much else – but I now have serious doubts about this. Trade in the modern global system is a lot like whack-a-mole and not every thread is one you necessarily want to pull on. There are no sweeping unilateral measures we can take and and every measure we do take will have consequences. Everything we do must be done carefully and with due consideration as to the potential fallout.

If Britain is to make a success of Brexit we will need to seek out sector specific alliances and work through the multilateral system and use collective pressure to bring about the changes we want to see. There is only so much we can do unilaterally.

This is why I believe an Efta EEA Brexit would be the more intelligent path in that Efta with the UK would make the fifth largest bloc in the world and one which could bring to bear considerable pressure on the EU to drop some of its protectionist measures. In some circumstances we are more likely to achieve EU reform from the outside. Failing that, Britain is going to find it difficult going it alone.

There are some who still believe we can pick up where we left off with old allies but the old rule is still the same; twice the distance means half the trade. To an extent the internet and trade in services breaks this rule but New Zealand and Australia are in a different sphere of regulatory influence. We on the, other hand, will still be in the EU’s gravitational pull come what may.

More to the point, any alliances we make must be toward addressing particular problems – and our most pressing being that of the migration crisis where all our efforts must be focussed on those trade measures which best eliminate the push factors in Africa. We are going to have to coordinate our efforts with the EU and we will still need close cooperation in order to make an impact. We may leave the EU but we cannot turn our backs on Europe.

I take the view that Article 50 talks and any subsequent trade talks must not be viewed as a chance to get one over on the the EU. If we play that game we will lose. We have to take a more collaborative approach and for the time being we are in a mode of damage limitation. We should leave the radicalism until we have left the EU. Brexit is radical enough for the moment.

The short of it is that we need to be more honest and realistic about what Brexit will achieve economically. We are certain to take a hit and it is insulting to pretend that we won’t. We all knew Brexit would have economic consequences – and if we are honest, none of us cared. We would have voted to leave regardless.

Primarily our future prosperity depends on fixing our politics here at home. That is what Brexit is about. Our politicians continue to abdicate from their responsibilities, handing to Brussels enormous areas of policy while they tinker on the sidelines. We continue to kick the can down the road on serious economic reform and and we have only really dabbled in “austerity”. Since our politicians have been incapable of making the hard choices, we have forced their hand. Vanity spending will have to be cut, electoral bribes will have to be slashed and white elephants will have to go on the barbecue.

In this we will have a reckoning with the wastrels, posers and charlatans of Westminster. We will have some almighty rows and we will tear the status quo apart. That is primarily what I voted for. I am under no illusions that it will come at great cost, I am as worried as any remainer about what it holds for the immediate future, and I am troubled by the wrong-headed approach to Brexit. All I know for certain is that this is a thing we must do and there can be no turning back.

At heart I am a libertarian. I take the view that every entitlement from government comes as a moral cost – and everything we get from government comes at the expense of certain liberties. There is no greater means of controlling a population than to make them dependent on government.

This is the paradigm we have had ever since World War Two. It has crushed our self-reliance, it has weakened our entrepreneurial flair and it has corroded society in all manner of pernicious ways. It has made Britain a spoiled, selfish and lazy country. It has made us a command and control economy with a cosseted middle class propped up by state spending and our whole economy is a house of cards. A Ponzi scheme. And Ponzi schemes always fail.

This is why Brexit is a revolution. It is the economic and moral revival we have been unable to secure by other means. We will prosper from Brexit not because of any direct consequence of leaving the EU but by tearing down the ossified structures of yore and rediscovering ourselves.

Shortly before the referendum I was out talking to people about Brexit. I asked a lady why she was voting to leave. I told her that we probably would take an economic hit but her reply was quite simple. “Something has to change”. And that is what gives me confidence.

We were not hoodwinked by the Boris bus, we were not fooled by Russian interference or computer algorithms. We went into this with our eyes wide open. Let us not patronise or pretend. Let us say it out loud that this is not an economic venture. This is purely political and the economy must be subordinate to political concerns – otherwise we might as well go the whole hog and abolish elections.

I did not vote for Brexit to spend £350m on the NHS. I don’t think Brexit is a free trade miracle. I just know that our politics is spent and if our politics is spent then so is our economy. We cannot fix the economy until we fix our politics. Let no man or woman interfere with that. If we do not see this through then we are not deserving of prosperity.

And they’re off!

Today, our formal negotiations to leave the EU begin in Brussels. David Davis is meeting with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator. Mr Davis said he is beginning his task “in a positive frame of mind“.

So there is finally something concrete to report after a ten days of confusion and speculation since the inconclusive General Election result. This. however, is where the certainty ends. It is almost a year since the Brexit vote and we do not know the shape of the planned Brexit deal. Of course, it is quite possible that this is a deliberate strategy to “keep our power dry”. Daniel Hannan, writing in the Daily Mail, claims that the Civil Servants have “had a year to prepare for these talks, and have put it to good effect.

We must hope so, but detail is thin on the ground. Although Philip Hammond, the Chancellor. has been widely reported as supporting ongoing membership of the Customs Union, he recently insisted that this was not the case. Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, he said, “And by the way, we’ll be leaving the customs union. The question is not whether we’re leaving the customs union, the question is what do we put in its place.” The subject of the customs union was barely mentioned in the referendum campaign last year. It has always been a red herring. For all the otherwise mixed messages of last year’s assorted leave campaigns, virtually everyone was agreed that freedom to determine our trading arrangements would be one of the principal benefits of Brexit and that remaining in the Customs Union would place unacceptable restrictions on any such future arrangements.

The Single Market is another matter, however. Mr Hammond also insisted that we would be leaving this too. Fair enough, but it would be good to know what sort of relationship exactly he and the Civil Servants have agreed to seek if they are to avoid what he called “those cliff edges.”

He also hinted that some transitional arrangement would be sought. “We will need some kind of transitional structures and the European Union needs to understand that as well. This is not a British ask or a British demand, it’s a statement of common sense, that if we’re going to radically change the way we work together we need to get there via a slope, not via a cliff edge. That’s good for business on both sides of the English Channel.” He appeared to rule out remaining in the customs union, even as part of a transitional arrangement, but was vaguer about the Single Market – deliberately so? We will no doubt know more in due course.

This does pose the question about how much influence say he, or even Mrs May, will have. The loss of the Tories’ overall majority leaves the government more beholden to Parliament  – including Tory backbenchers – than before. Some have gone on record – anonymously – that any backpedalling on, or dilution of Brexit by the Prime Minister will result in a leadership challenge.

Mrs May will therefore have her work cut out to appease some more hard line Brexiteers, but on the other hand, she will need to keep on board those MPs are less enthusiastic about leaving the EU, who will doubtless seek to exploit any features of the end deal which would negatively affect the economy in general and jobs in particular.

Labour, however, says it will not seek to derail Brexit. During the election campaign, Jeremy Corbyn was campaigning for a different sort of Brexit but never offered any hint that he would try to undermine it.  There are two issues at play here. First, personally, Mr Corbyn has never been a supporter of the EU project. As we have pointed out, his contribution to the remain campaign was at best lukewarm and in reality, a negative one.  More to the point, outside the big cities, support for Brexit was strong in Labour-voting constituencies and Corbyn and his team rightly realised that unless he emphasised his commitment to Brexit, votes – and potentially seats – could be lost in the constituencies which historically have been Labour’s heartland. This tactic succeeded and consequentially, those Labour MPs who dislike both Corbyn and Brexit must realise that their room for manoevre is rather limited given that their party did much better than was widely predicted two months ago.

Emmanuel Macron, the seemingly all conquering French President, insisted that “the door remains open” to the UK abandoning Brexit and remaining in the EU. Dan Hannan strongly rebutted this offer. “The idea that Britain might crawl back to Brussels, apologising for its mistake, shows an extraordinary misreading of our character, our history – and public opinion,” he wrote.

It’s not just our history and character. One does not often find oneself in agreement with John Major, but during a recent interview on BBC’s Radio 4, he made the point  that the EU has never really been a big priority for most UK voters. Ask any veteran UKIP candidate or even the Lib Dems, whose pitch to the supposed “48%” in the recent General Election campaign fell rather flat, and they would concur 100%. A vocal minority notwithstanding, most people, whichever way they voted in June last year, just want the government to get on with it.

And this is what it is finally doing. We can but hope that everyone will be satisfied with the result.

 

Photo by rogerblake2

Rejection of Theresa May’s little Englander ‘Brexit’ is splendid news

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

For liberal, free-market Brexiteers, the election shock is a gift from Mount Olympus. We are dancing cartwheels and quaffing our sparkling Kentish wines.

Theresa May’s plummeting star is an entirely unexpected chance to refashion British withdrawal from the European Union along different lines. It re-opens the possibility of a ‘Norwegian’ solution or close variant, an option that she shut down prematurely without debate because it limits her ability to control inflows of EU workers.

Mrs May sees Brexit through the fatal prism of migration, borders, and criminal justice – the déformation professionnelle of the Home Office – strangely oblivious to the immense economic risks of pursuing a narrow strategy to the detriment of all else.

Her vision is irksome to those of us who backed Brexit chiefly in order to restore the law-making prerogatives of Parliament, and to keep a safe distance from an EU that must evolve into a unitary political state if the euro is to survive. Such a destiny is self-evidently incompatible with British democracy and self-rule.

Mrs May is a Remainer who tries too hard to compensate. She has misunderstood the subtleties of Brexit, hijacked the Referendum for the better part of a year, twisted its contours, and seems unaware how her strategy is playing into a corrosive and false narrative taking hold in the world: that the British people are turning nasty and nationalist. So let us begin again.

The shrunken Tories will have to rely on the Ulster Unionists (DUP), who will not brook a hard economic border with the Republic of Ireland.

They will also have to listen more attentively to the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and with her triumphant vanguard of Westminster MPs. She is pressing for the “largest amount of access” to the EU single market.

The balance of political power has changed. To the extent that this safeguards the unity of these Isles – the foremost priority – it is a blessing.

The election was not a rejection of Brexit, as Europe’s press seems to suppose. Some 84% of votes went to Brexit parties. But it was certainly a rejection of Mrs May’s particular variant of Brexit. Call it ‘hard’ if you wish. I prefer to call it insular, pedantic, and illiberal.

The natural fit at this stage is the European Economic Area (EEA), the Norwegian option that was once held out as the Holy Grail by Brexiteers of gradualist philosophy, but was subsequently rubbished by the tub-thumpers and Burka banners. The party of this ideology secured 1.8pc of the vote on Thursday, nota bene. It has no legitimate veto over anything.

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.

Britain is a contracting party to the EEA. The agreement is binding on all members, and entails rights under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Yes, we would need the goodwill of the EEA-trio of Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein, and the EU itself.

It is possible that some in the EU are now so intent on punishing Britain – or carving up post-Brexit spoils – that they would stop us pursuing this course. But that would be a hostile act. It would certainly clarify the issue. We would then know exactly what the real agenda was in Brussels. It is better to know this sooner rather than later.

There is no such thing as a soft Brexit. Wise statecraft can nevertheless work through this thicket. The EEA option is the best political solution on offer given the new circumstances. It is a graceful way out of the impasse for all parties, not least for a divided EU with a looming budget crunch and a mountain of other problems to deal with.

Tory ultras might balk at a settlement so far short of total liberation. I balk myself whenever I have to listen to the insolence of Jean-Claude Juncker. Yet Tory ultras did not win a mandate in this election for their hair-raising adventure into uncharted waters.

The vote changed the dynamics of Brexit. Compromise is now ineluctable. Jeremy Corbyn and his army of the young may have done this nation a favour.