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!

Is the Customs Union (or Partnership) option about to be shunted into the siding?

The government has been going round in circles with its Brexit proposals and getting nowhere. We have been saying so on this website for well over a year, but a growing chorus of voices is saying the same thing. Lord Kerslake, the former head of the Civil Service, has called the Government’s plans “undeliverable” while Michel Barnier has poured scorn on Mrs May’s hopes of breaking the Deadlock in her cabinet, which has been divided into two in order to consider two equally unworkable options – the  customs partnership or the alternative “maximum facilitation” model, which relies on as yet untried computer technology. He pointed out that neither would be acceptable to Brussels.

Is it too much to hope that the idea of a customs union or customs partnership is slowly being abandoned? In this article for Cap X,  William Davison could not be clearer:- “A new customs union will not resolve the Irish border issue.” He quotes Richard North, who has provided ample evidence ot show that it does not create frictionless trade. The customs union, he correctly states, is a key building block of European integration. There really is no point in pursuing any sort of customs union or partnership if we want to leave the EU. A recent ICM poll, discussed in the Guardian, shows that the general public is more on the ball than Mrs May’s government. Leaving the customs union is the most popular Brexit option. It is encouraging that, in the current climate where most people are utterly fed up with Brexit, that there remains at least some appreciation of what Brexit must mean among the general public.

So this leaves us with two options – leaving with no deal or the EEA/EFTA route. The Davison article mentioned above does say that the Single Market is also a “building block of European Integration”, but this doesn’t mean that re-joining EFTA would be a covert back door returning us into the EU.  It is a shame that the Davison article, after debunking the Customs Union option so thoroughly, fails to to justice to the freedom which we would enjoy as an EFTA member – accessing the single market but free from the EU’s programme of ever-closer union. Dr Richard North explains very clearly in this piece that accessing the single market via the EEA Agreement is a much better option than is widely believed. He debunks an article in Brexit Central by Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson which claims that “this arrangement was originally designed by Brussels to prepare countries for becoming part of the EU”.

Not so, says Dr North. “What became the EEA originated from an initiative taken by the EFTA member states.” He then gives the reader a thorough history lesson, which is well worth reading through, as is his previous post on “EEA Myths”, where he explains that if we used the EFTA route, we wold not end up replicating Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein but would use the flexibility within the EEA agreement to carve out our own relationship with the EU.

Whether or not this sounds appealing, few could disagree that it is vastly better than the current transitional arrangements. What is more, it looks like being the only Brexit solution which will be acceptable to Parliament. On the one side, the Lords continue to behave mischievously while on the other, a number of MPs including cabinet colleagues have lined up against any sort of customs partnership.

The only other alternative is to walk away and rely on so-called “WTO rules”. Although advocated by a number of leave-supporting MPs it would be fraught with problems. This piece offers a lengthy but readable analysis of what life would be like without any agreement:- disruption for goods crossing borders, major issues with air traffic, no nuclear safeguarding framework, mutual recognition issues and so on. Especially given the ticking clock – less than ten months remain before Brexit Day, there is no time to address these issues and make bilateral deals to avoid utter chaos.

We have been saying for some time that it will need a crisis to provoke a change of direction from Mrs May. It has yet to break, as latest reports still talk of Mrs May not only pursuing a customs union or partnership for the transitional period, but even extending if for several years. Even so, this unworkable customs union/partnership option is now being openly assailed on all fronts, so there is some hope that, amidst all the muddle, the tectonic plates are slowly shifting.

  

 

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.

EFTA might save the day if MPs will read the small print

We have pointed out regularly on this website that, for all its faults as a long-term relationship with the EU, the EEA/EFTA route – whereby the UK remains in the European Economic Area (EEA) by re-joining EFTA, the European Free Trade Association – is a much better short-term arrangement to see us out of the Brexit door than the current proposed “Vassal State” transitional arrangements, particularly as it appears that these will be based on “good faith” rather than a treaty. Since when has the EU ever respected “good faith”?

More on good faith here, but it appears that the initial talking down and misrepresentation of the EEA/EFTA route by David Cameron selectively and inaccurately  highlighting the negatives, which were duly repeated parrot-fashion by everyone from Nick Clegg to Nigel Farage for their different reasons has distorted MPs’ perception of  what in reality could be a life saver for Mrs May and her government, whilst taking the wind out of the sails of all but the most fanatical remoaners.

This option has been brought into focus once again by Iceland’s Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Thór Thórðarson. A year ago, speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, he urged the UK to rejoin EFTA and this last week, he has intervened in the Bexit debate again, saying that Iceland’s relationship with the EU had been misrepresented in the Brexit debate and allowed more independence than many people realised. “We have the best of both worlds, we can make deals wherever we like, we usually do it through EFTA,” said Thórðarson, adding “We also have bilateral agreements, for example we were the first Western nation to sign a bilateral agreement with China,” adding, “It’s not true we take 80 to 90 percent of [EU’s] acquis, we have taken 13.4% since 1994.” Of course, Iceland is not tied to the Common Fisheries Policy, the Common Agricultural Policy nor to any of the political structures of the EU.  As an EFTA country, it is out of the direct reach of the European Court of Justice. If the terms of the EEA agreement are found to be unsatisfactory, the agreement can be ended by simply giving a year’s notice.

Given the overlap between free trade agreements signed by the EU and those signed by EFTA, following Iceland and Norway’s example would enable trade to continue to flow seamlessly between the UK and EU as well as  countries like the USA, Japan, South Korea and Mexico. It would also much reduce the Irish border problem. Some hard brexirteers applauded the suggestion by Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, that Britain should avoid the Article 50 procedure altogether and simply leave. But they overlooked the fact that he suggested that the UK should move instantly to the EEA/EFTA model, pending completion of final negotiations which, he foresaw, could take some years.

At the moment, Mrs May is squeezed between a rock and a hard place. Six out of the 11 members of her “Brexit war cabinet” have stated their opposition to any “customs partnership” while 60 Tory MPs have insisted that they will not support the government if it pursues a “customs partnership” as it would make meaningful trade deals “impossible” and render the Department of International Trade “obsolete”. Given that Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of these sixty, has stated his willingness to endure 21 months of the proposed “Vassal State” transitional arrangement, it is hard to imagine that using EFTA instead as a transition would lead to widespread revolt. On the other hand, the security offered by EFTA would deprive the hard-core remainiacs of their support on both the Tory and Labour benches. The reasons given, for instance by Dr Sarah Wollaston, for supporting the House of Lords amendment – namely that she was not prepared to “endorse economic ruin” – would no longer apply.  There would be no credible reason for MPs not supporting the EEA/EFTA route unless they were genuinely determined to wreck Brexit. Some of the Lords, according to Lord Lamont, are seeking to do just this.  The EFTA route would pull the rug from under their feet, as few MPs would like to be exposed as mere wreckers when there would be no reasonable grounds to justify their behaviour.

This option could well become more attractive given that ever more MPs are starting to speak out against any close customs partnership with the EU. But, if the EEA/EFTA route is necessary at some stage on the way to a final settlement, it looks more tolerable than anything else which is within the bounds of possibility as a transitional arrangement during the few available remaining months of opportunity before the Article 50 notice expires.

Good riddance to Rudd. Now for Robbins!

The departure of Amber Rudd from Mrs May’s cabinet will not cause any tears to be shed among Brexit supporters. Her brother, Roland Rudd, was  chairman of the europhile Business for New Europe and she campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum. Although publicly committed to supporting Theresa May’s commitment to leave the EU,  in a meeting with journalists last week, she appeared to be ambivalent about the Customs Union although she later stated that she supported the government’s policy.  Leaked papers also suggested that she supported unrestricted access for skilled EU27 migrants to the UK after Brexit, ignoring the wishes of many leave voters who wanted to leave the EU precisely so immigration could be drastically reduced.

He successor, Sajid Javid, is believed by those in the know to have voted remain only out of loyalty to David Cameron and George Osborne, especially as a few months before the vote he said his “heart” was for Brexit. After the result, he said: “We’re all Brexiteers now” and has been unequivocal in his support of leaving the EU ever since.  He cannot but be an improvement on Amber Rudd.

Robbins next!

This website has rarely had a good word for David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, in recent months, but we fully support his call for Theresa May to sack her Brexit advisor, Olly Robbins.  Davis feels he is being sidelined by Robbins, a civil servant  and a notorious europhile. Davis’ calls were met with indignation from a number of quarters. A fellow-senior civil servant, Sir Jeremy Haywood, indignantly tweeted that “The Civil Service will always be true to its values – honesty, integrity, impartiality and objectivity.” Is this fair, however? Since the departure of Nick Timothy, Mrs May’s special advisor who, for all his bungling of last year’s General Election, was at least a convinced leaver, the Prime Minister’s Brexit policy has gone from bad to worse, especially since Robbins has become her EU advisor. Furthermore, there is nothing “honest” about advocating any sort of customs union.  As we have pointed out umpteen times, it does not solve any trade-related problems.  The bleating of remoaner MPs that the referendum said nothing about leaving the customs union is irelevant – no one said anything about it because staying in it is such a daft idea that it was not worthy of discussion. I took part in over 20 debates and rallies and not once did the subject come up.

With local elections coming up this Thursday, if the Conservatives perform badly – as they could well do, particularly in London –  a scapegoat will be required by MPs.  The Tories picked up a lot of votes at last  year’s General Election because of Mrs May’s promises on Brexit. Although in theory, Brexit is irrelevant as far as local elections are concerned, in practice, people often use local elections to protest about national issues and the inept handling of Brexit is likely to top the list of reason for dissatisfaction with the Tories.  There could therefore be no better head to roll than that of Mr Robbins.

Photo by DECCgovuk

Stupidity or sabotage part 2

Following last week’s debate on the Customs Union in the House of Lords, Thursday saw the Commons stage a debate, entitled “Customs and Borders”. Dr Richard North followed it and the title of his blog post, “a showpiece of ignorance”  is enough in and of itself to make the point that the level of understanding about the nature of a customs union in the lower chamber is, with a few exceptions, as  appallingly low among MPs as among their Lordships. Dr North described the contribution of Yvette Cooper  and others as “an exercise in futility.” If we have needed any further evidence since the referendum of why we ought to leave the EU, it is our MPs’ total cluelessness of the true nature of the beast.

He also suggest a reason why some MPs are clinging on to the fantasy that staying in the customs union would enable us to enjoy seamless trade with the EU. It only needs a plane trip to the Turkish/Bulgarian border crossing at Kapikule to watch Turkey’s version of “Operation Stack” to expose the fallacy of their argument, so why cling to their illusions?

The most likely answer is that the remoaners have realised that their dream of a second referendum is a non-starter. There is no groundswell among the public to go through all that again. Desperate to stop us leaving the EU, their only hope is via Parliament.

Can they succeed? Unlikely but one must never underestimate the malice of convinced remoaners. They could easily be thwarted, however, if the bulk of MPs realised that a customs union (i) is not joined at the hip to the single market, (ii) would not solve the Irish border problem and (iii) would not lead to seamless trade with the rest of the EU. We can be thankful that the penny has dropped with a few MPs bu they need to show a bit more evangelistic zeal among their colleagues.