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.

Brexit Reset – New pamphlet available for downloading

Our latest pamphlet, BREXIT RESET has been sent to  all MPs. We are also sending BREXIT RESET to the Lords and members of the devolved assemblies.

The pamphlet calls on the government to abandon the “vassal state”  transitional arrangement proposed by the EU and suggests an available, working   alternative which would save our fishing industry and leave behind three quarters of EU laws on March 29th 2019 – including those on defence and the European Arrest Warrant. It leaves the way open for the government to carry out its full programme when its negotiations are complete. The BREXIT RESET scheme can be legally terminated by simply giving a year’s notice. Please urge Ministers, MPs and peers to to look at it. Many of them are sorely in need of guidance as they seek to obey the mandate of the UK electorate.

The booklet is being accompanied by this letter from our Chairman (See also below).

 

TIME FOR A BREXIT “RESET”?

 

Dear …. (we personalised the letter to so that every MP was addressed by name)

 

The constitutional authority A.V. Dicey wrote that supreme political power rested with the electorate and supreme legal power with Parliament.  Parliament has already voted to implement the people’s express wish to leave the EU and has the onerous task of giving it legal effect. Over a year has elapsed since the government notified the EU of the UK’s intention to leave. The period of Article 50 notice will expire on 29th March 2019, when the existing EU treaties will cease to apply.

The government recognised the need for an extra period of negotiation to achieve a mutually satisfactory new trading relationship. The EU’s proposed agreement for this is so adverse that it has fairly been assessed as making the UK into a “vassal state”.  There is just time for other existing European structures to be used which can offer adequate assurance to the EU for its requirements and interests while permitting a largely unimpeded continued flow of trade. At the same time, the Brexit Reset proposals remove the roughly three quarters of EU legislation which enforces the EU political project which the UK can leave behind on Brexit Day 29th March 2019.

The procedure in the current EU (Withdrawal) Bill of transferring EU legislation to the UK statute book would be gravely and permanently disastrous to our fishing fleet. The proposals in Brexit Reset overcome these problems with the added bonus of a vastly more environmentally friendly fisheries system. The Brexit Reset proposals also remove EU law during the transition on matters which are not market-related and end the drift towards EU integration and control of defence policy which has quietly taken place in the last eighteen months. Clearly, our armed forces must be capable of independent action as well as operating in concert with allies.

This booklet is a distillation of inputs and research by people and groups of all parties and none. We hope you find it helpful in the heavy and urgent task of implementing the people’s decision to best effect.

Yours sincerely

 

Edward Spalton

Chairman

You can download a pdf of the booklet here.

 

A deep and special fantasy world

Following the return of MPs to Parliament after the Easter Recess, their responses to recent Brexit developments will be closely watched. The lack of anger from Tory MPs thus far has been disappointing. The surrender on fishing in the draft transitional agreement has greatly upset the fishing community. It poses the question as to whether it would be right to sacrifice one of our historic industries even if we did end up with an all-singing, all-dancing deal at the end of 21 months. To destroy our fishing industry for a pure illusion is even worse, but this is what our government seems to be doing.

The “deep and special” relationship between the EU and the UK exists only in the minds of a few UK politicians; it is certainly not how the EU views its future links with a departing member state whose decision to leave the bloc was one of the biggest body blows it has ever faced.

Last week, David Davis announced plans to send “hundreds” of civil servants to Brussels to work on the deal. Within days, a senior EU source announced that this wasn’t going to happen. “There will be no negotiation strands, no ‘hundreds’ of British negotiators,” said an un-named diplomat.  “Trade negotiations will not start properly until after 29 March 2019. Before that we must get the fundamentals right,” the source said.

One important, unresolved issue is the status of Gibraltar, with Michel Barnier indicating that Spain will enjoy strong support from the other EU member states. Spain’s demands include the joint control of Gibraltar’s airport, cross-border cooperation on smuggling and ending what it sees as a tax haven with far lower corporation rates.

Yesterday’s Parliamentary written questions laid bare the depths of unreality which still pervade our government. Steve Baker, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, was anything but clear when questioned by the Labour MP Paul Blomfield. When discussing the transitional priod, he said “The agreement will be underpinned by a duty of good faith and governed by a Joint Committee to ensure it is faithfully and fully implemented by both sides.” As John Ashworth of Fishing for Leave asked, “Since when have the EU run on good faith?” Mr Baker also went on to say, “As we move towards our future partnership with the EU, we will need to discuss how we manage the relationship once we are two separate legal systems.” The legal divergence begins on 29th March 2019, when “the  treaties will cease to apply” to the UK.  There still seems very little idea, from the UK point of view,  how the UK will relate to the EU in the transitional period from a legal point of view. We may keep our laws in step with Brussels but they will have a different legal basis.

Discussions on Brexit in the House of Lords revealed the same sense of muddle. Questioned by Lord Taylor of Warwick, Lord Callinan said, “During the implementation period the UK will be in a continued close association with the EU Customs Union. This will ensure a smooth exit and minimise disruption for businesses. HMRC are confident that they are on track to deliver the functioning customs, VAT and excise regimes the UK will need once it leaves the EU.” It is hard to share HMRC’s confidence, especially as far as the Irish Border issue is concerned.

It is becoming apparent to anyone following these negotiations that the performance of Mrs May and David Davis has been completely pathetic. The EU has walked all over them.  We can but hope that opposition from Brexit-supporting MPs within their party is merely dormant and that they will make it loud and clear that they will not support the proposed arrangements, including the terms for a transitional deal, nor the surrender on fishing nor, indeed, the proposed close military cooperation.  Sooner or later, it will dawn on them that their party will pay heavily for a botched Brexit. it is in everyone’s interest for that moment to arrive as quickly as possible so that there is time to change tack.

 

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

Brexit roundup – short-term problems; longer-term potential?

With Parliament  still in the Easter recess, things have been a bit quieter than usual on the Brexit front. However, the well-supported fishing protests last Sunday suggest that we are going to be entering a  period in which the Government will face ever-mounting pressure to try a different approach to securing some sort of workable short-term post Brexit arrangement.

The long term is not looking promising either. Given how readily Mrs May and David Davis rolled over, what is the likelihood of their resisting demands from Michel Barnier that the UK sign a “non-regression” clause in any long-term agreement, which would force the UK not to undercut EU standards on tax, health and the environment to poach investments. He has also insisted that access for EU fishing vessels must be included in any long-term deal. The “environment” issue is a red herring as many EU environmental laws owe their existence to UK influence, but why should we not determine who fishes in our waters? Why should we be denied the freedom to cut tax? The state in the UK is horrifically bloated, as in most other Western nations.  It needs to be shrunk drastically and were this to be undertaken, taxes would inevitably undercut those in many EU member states.

Going back to the transitional arrangements, a report from the House of Commons Brexit Committee has confirmed that if a “deep and special partnership” with the EU proved unsuccessful, EEA/Efta membership was an alternative that could be implemented quickly. Although the Committee is looking at EEA/Efta as a long-term solution (which it isn’t)  it would be a better alternative than the current proposals for the short term, which poses the question as to why Mrs May and her team are pursuing such a damaging alternative. Maybe they still believe that it’s worth enduring 21 months of humiliation because  there will be a marvellous deal at the end – a hope which is unlikely to be fulfilled. Barnier’s comments make it clear that he wants to deny us as much long-term freedom as possible.

A number of Commonwealth countries have been discussing a future trade relationship with the EU. The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that it would be “fairly easy” to negotiate “an improved approach on trade between Canada and the UK” after Brexit. The same article claimed that India is becoming less enthusiastic, no doubt due to  the recent statement by Theresa May that she still intended to reduce annual net UK migration to less than 100,000, meaning that India’s desire for more of its citizens to come over here as part of a new trade deal is unlikely to be fulfilled. Australia is also keen to start negotiations with the UK on trade, but pointed out that  if we stayed in the EU’s customs union after Brexit, we wold become “irrelevant”.

Meanwhile, disgruntled remoaners are still seeking to over turn Brexit by demanding a second referendum.  For all her failings in other areas of Brexit, at least Mrs May is standing firm on this. “Regardless of whether they backed Leave or Remain, most people are tired of hearing the same old divisive arguments from the referendum campaign, and just want us to get on with the task of making Brexit a success. And they’re right to think that. The people of this country voted to leave the EU and, as Prime Minister, it’s my job to make that happen.” she said in a recent speech to mark one year until Brexit day.

Mrs May is most definitely right in claiming that most people have had enough of Brexit controversy. Claims that some 44% of voters want a second referendum do not tally with real-life experience.  Given that the poll was conducted by a pro-remain group, Best for Britain,  a healthy degree of scepticism is justified. Mrs May has the support of Jeremy Corbyn in opposing a second referendum and it is doubtful whether those activists on both sides of the argument who spoke in debate after debate, criss-crossing the country and having to suspend anything resembling a normal life for three months would want to go through it again.

The clamour is coming from those who wouldn’t have to do the donkey work. The latest addition to the ranks of these good-for nothings is David Miliband, who called Brexit “the humiliation of Britain.”  Well, Mrs May does seem to be trying to do this at the moment, but a decent Brexit would be the absolute opposite – a chance to stand tall as a sovereign nation once again. there’s nothing humiliating about this.  One after another, the fears stoked up by remoaners are being debunked. The UK economy has performed well since the vote and only today, Andreas Dombret, Member of the Executive Board of the Deutsche Bundesbank, stated that despite attempts to lure parts of the finance industry to Paris or Frankfurt, London would remain Europe’s financial hub after Brexit.  A mass exodus from the City was always a concern during the referendum campaign, but such fears are unfounded.

In many ways, a healthy debate on how we leave  – i.e., the relative merits of the current transitional proposal versus EEA/Efta as a holding position will take the wind out of the remoaners’ sails and would cut their media exposure in favour of more important issues. However, one cannot overstate the importance of winning this debate. Brexit must mean Brexit (to quote Mrs May). Surrendering to the EU’s demands for a transitional deal would prevent us fully achieving the separation for which we voted in June 2016. This must not happen.

RIP Sir Richard Body

This tribute first appeared on Brexit Central and is reproduced with permission.

The death has been announced at the age of 90 of Sir Richard Body, Conservative MP for Billericay between 1955 and 1959 and then Holland with Boston (later Boston and Skegness) between 1966 and 2001. He was a long-serving Co-President of the Campaign for an Independent Britain and in 1994 he famously resigned the Conservative whip in solidarity with eight fellow Tory MPs who had the whip suspended after abstaining on a Commons vote on the European Communities (Finance) Bill, which would increase the UK’s contribution to the EU. He is remembered here by Dr Lee Rotherham.

Sir Richard Body was a thoughtful, courteous, courageous and engaging parliamentary veteran who played a long and significant role in the Eurosceptic movement. He also had a thoroughly disarming manner. After spotting a vacant spot on the European battlefield, he would identify a strategic hill and predict its significance; then, after a pause, he would lean forward: “Now,” he would say with a very perceptible twinkle in his eye, “I do think there’s something we could be doing here.” And having identified a minuscule budget to achieve the task (Euroscepticism in those days was a shoestring affair), a surprise flanking manoeuvre would take place that no one else had considered, the critical importance of which might only be fully revealed several years later.

Sir Richard was an independently-minded Quaker, and what used to be called an old school shire Tory. His unhurried pre-24 hour news cycle style could be problematic to media monsters: on being invited to Downing Street to follow the other whipless rebels back into the party, the Whips’ Office jumped the gun and released a statement that took the action as granted. But Sir Richard had resigned on principle, and in defence of the interests of his constituents. The presumption was dangerous and for some hours the Downing Street press office had to embarrassingly hold a wobbly line of their own making while Sir Richard reflected on whether the commitment made by the Prime Minister over fisheries policy was sufficiently robust.

By that stage he was an extremely experienced parliamentarian. I recall once being taken aback in the late 1990s, when discussing certain developments: “This,” he observed, “reminds me of the mood in the House at the time of Suez.” As such anecdotes (some lately happily captured by the Parliament archivists) remind us, he had by then been on the green benches long enough almost to be in the running to be Father of the House. However, a necessary stint in the private sector (MPs were not well remunerated in those days) generated a break in that service, and he was to observe that he considered himself extraordinarily lucky to have been given a second opportunity. His was, incidentally, the first seat to be announced by live television coverage by a field camera unit. The result came through unexpectedly early and the candidate had retired for a nap in the interim: an unknown force pulled him out of slumber and encouraged him to dash off into the main hall – thus narrowly avoiding the embarrassment of being literally caught napping on camera…

His four decades of parliamentary service did not see him rise to ministerial rank, though he did serve as Chairman of the Agriculture Select Committee. He was a long-standing campaigner on a number of avant-garde environmental and rural issues, amongst them animal welfare, the overuse of antibiotics, and aggressive farm gangmasters. It was not just EU issues that led to an overlap of interests with the Goldsmith ‘green Eurosceptics’.

The most intriguing aspect of his career was perhaps the fact that he started out as a very, very early pro-European. Visitors to his constituency home would even be shown the ‘Ted Heath chair’ on which the future Prime Minister had sat during a visit. The reason why there weren’t more pieces of such nomenclatured furniture, however, lay in a visit that Sir Richard made to Brussels. Over lunch, his interlocutors, believing they were speaking with a convinced integrationist, felt that they could confide fully in their visitor on the scale of their ambition, caveating it with an “Of course, we cannot reveal this in public, because the public would oppose it.”

The deep deceit involved and anti-democratic nature of the project drove him into opposing it. As the programme became clearer over the years, it also revealed itself to be far from the model of accountable, devolved government that he himself supported. For Sir Richard, if federalism were an ideal for any state, it required the balances and parity of scale involved in the Swiss model; political unification on a continental scale, by contrast, meant abandoning the lessons learned from the Renaissance, where humanity had leapt through competition between small states each proud of their achievements and cityscapes, and where a free market urban competitiveness drove innovation and social progress. Strikingly, his Euroscepticism was unusually internationalist in outlook. His links with Scandinavian Eurosceptics was particularly important, and fostered valuable wider co-operation between campaigners.

Sir Richard’s long campaign saw him play a central leadership role during the 1975 EEC referendum. Amongst other actions, it is also worth recalling his commissioning Professor Patrick Minford’s early cost-benefit analysis of EU membership. Quite aside from the significance of this audit in its own right (acknowledged indeed in Margaret Thatcher’s Statecraft), it perspicaciously included a further commentary by a leading Japanese economist. On top of that it also added a brief introduction by several prominent businessmen. Sir Richard predicted the need to bring business leaders openly onto the Eurosceptic campaign trail, and signatories indeed subsequently set up Business for Sterling and, in turn, Business for Britain.

His biggest battle was over fishing, and standing up for the livelihoods of his constituents in the port of Boston. When eight Conservative colleagues voted against the Government over an increase in the EU budget, and John Major removed their whip, Body voluntarily followed them: the money, after all, meant upgrading the Spanish fishing fleet while paying for British boats to be scrapped. Sir Richard supported Save Britain’s Fish at a time when party policy on fisheries was, to say the least, shallow. The extent to which it is less so today is in part down to his support of a cause that had shamefully for so long been considered politically on the periphery and indeed expendable; he, for example, commissioned a legal review by a QC that confirmed beyond doubt the UK’s default sovereign standing over the 200-mile limit. The fact that Conservatives Against a Federal Europe (CAFE) included fisheries as a commitment was effectively down to him – indeed, the move by the Whipless Eight to take over and reinvigorate CAFE in 1996 and turn it into the party’s largest grassroots organisation was at his recommendation.

His early support for Margaret Thatcher as a potential leadership candidate (notwithstanding the fact that she was apparently at the outset quite a shaky speaker!) has been recorded. Less well recalled was his engagement with key proto-Thatcherite think-tanks in the 1970s. In due course he set up his own Centre for European Studies and long co-operated with the late John Coleman in such projects as New European Publications and the New European journal (still going today, and certainly not to be confused with the anti-Brexit rag of the same name). In his own writings, he published books that, amongst other things, supported English devolution, predicted the development of tablets and scanned payments technologies and set out a loose style of European arrangement (Europe of Many Circles) that might still in future years inform debate about a post-EU Europe. He achieved all of this despite a much-hampered eyesight, that when encountered at his desk lent him the air of a jeweller hard engaged on his task.

Coming soon after the passing of Sir Teddy Taylor, the Eurosceptic movement has been hit by the sad loss of another great Brexit pathfinder and pioneer. My thoughts are with his family.