A year to go and we’re nowhere near a satisfactory Brexit

A significant milestone which most people would otherwise probably have failed to have noticed has been widely reported in the media today.

The picture above depicts how I had been imagining the mood will be in exactly a year’s time – on March 29th 2019 when the two-year Article 50 period expires and we finally leave the EU. As things stand, however, it will be Brexit in name only, so most certainly not be a cause for celebration. Ahead lies a minimum of 21 months as a vassal state, where we will continue to suffer all the frustrations of being in the EU without any representation in the EU institutions.

Looking back to that incredible morning of 24th June 2016 when the referendum result was announced, not even the worst pessimist could have predicted the complete shambles which the Government has made of the Brexit negotiations. Without any clear idea of what sort of final deal they sought and outsmarted at every turn by Michel Barnier  and his team, Theresa May and David Davis have made concession after concession to the EU and have come up with the idea of a transitional deal as a means of buying time after realising that so many areas of detail cannot be sorted out in time for a long-term deal giving us full independence to be signed off in time to be implemented a year from today.

So we are facing a situation where our bright future has been postponed. No restrictions on immigration, no freedom from the European Court of Justice, no cut in our contribution to the  EU’s coffers and the decimation of our fishing industry. This was not what we voted for in June 2016.

The big question is why so many Tory MPs, even staunch supporters of independence, are being so quiescent in the face of what is likely to be a disaster, not just for the fishing industry, but for the country as a whole  – and thus, for their party electorally. Are they, as one report suggests, mere “paper tigers”  who “may huff and may puff, but they won’t blow the Prime Minister’s house down – however far any heads of agreement deal may be from perfection”?

Thankfully, all is not lost – yet. The divorce document has to be signed off not only by the EU but by our Parliament too and the combination of a vote forced through (ironically) by remainers giving MPs the chance to reject the final deal and Mrs May’s wafer-thin majority may save the day. For one thing, the Irish border issue, in spite of reports to the contrary, is unlikely to be solved quickly in a way that will satisfy the Democratic Unionist Party, upon whose support Mrs May depends.

Secondly, the cave-in on fishing has provoked immense anger – on a scale that appears to have taken the government aback. Michael Gove was clearly uncomfortable when he faced some awkward questions in the House of Commons and given the fishing industry’s long history of campaigning, we can be sure that we have not heard the last of this issue yet.

Furthermore, it is not too late to try a different approach. The EEA/EFTA route has its friends and also its critics among Brexit supporters. Everyone, however, must agree on two points. Firstly, that it is not the ideal long-term relationship for an independent UK to have with the EU, but secondly (and in the immediate context, far more importantly), it is better as an interim arrangement in every way than the transitional terms which the EU is offering us – and is still a viable option which could be implemented with in a year. The EEA/EFTA countries are not part of the political structure of the EU, subject only to the 25per cent or so of laws relating to the internal market, not directly subject to the ECJ but to the EFTA court which can only rule on EEA-relevant matters and does not have any formal powers of enforcement. IF we took this option, we would be outside the Common Security and Defence Policy, the so-called  “Common Area of Freedom and Justice” – especially the EAW, Europol and the Eurogendarmerie. We would also be outside the Common Agricultural Policy  and critically, our fishing industry can return to domestic control. We could also restrict immigration as Liechtenstein has done.

For those who would like some more detail on this subject, this chart was produced by Anthony Scholefield during the Referendum campaign and although showing the advantages of the EEA/EFTA route compared with EU membership, if you substitute “our vassal statehood after 29th March 2019” for “remain” would still be a pretty accurate comparison.

We believe that all is not yet lost, but the lunacy of Mrs May and Mr Davis in pursuing this terrible transitional arrangement is totally baffling given something better is on offer. The electoral consequences for the Conservatives will be enormous. The sooner and more often they hear “1846” whispered in their ears* the more likely we are to see a desperately-needed change of tack.


  • In 1846, a crisis over the Repeal of the Corn Laws precipitated  a crisis for Robert Peel and the Tory party. The damaging split which ensued kept the Conservatives effectively out of office for 28 years. Your author is firmly convinced that the party will face a catastrophe of equal magnitude if Brexit is botched.
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  1. Adam HileyReply

    the conservatives must get rid of May Davis Rudd and Hammond and appoint a true Brexiteer the thought of the terrorist loving Corbyn and his band of thick anti Semites from Momentum running Britain does not bear thinking about Jacob Rees would be My choice though I have never supported the Tories or Labour never will I We need to get rid of the parties and leave the EU and ECHR immediately

  2. Jason BReply

    Who is there I would ask, with the ability to lead and rally up troops quickly to demonstrate there is a far better way and approach out of the EU than what is on offer.

    I have never understood why Mrs May did not select all MP leavers in her cabinet to start with.

  3. Simon BlanchardReply

    EEA/EFTA without our fishing grounds and signing up to PESCO in a Kit-Kat clause is hardly going to go down well, even as transition period. May is keen to sign us up as a Third country of the EU Defence Union and Barnier demands continued access to UK waters under CFP rules, in ANY deal.
    How transitional was the Norway Option? Does it look as if the Norwegians are about to get out from being vassal state status rubber stamping 25% of EU laws anytime ever? I remember not so long ago this figure was touted at 9%, then it was 13% and now they tell us it’s 25%. Hmmm I see a pattern here, don’t you?
    This transition deal if accepted will be set as hard as concrete, until a revolution overturns this decision, by which time the EU Army (much of our own troops) will be fully operational to quash any dissent.

  4. Phil JonesReply

    John, you and others are big on EFTA or EFTA/EEA. I think either would be a massive mistake. I’m not sure if you are considering EFTA for just the transition 21 months or some type of permanent EU/UK arrangement. Either way would be a disaster. If it were implemented as something to cover the 21 months, you can bet your last pound that it would carry on as permanent. And if it were implemented as permanent ab initio, including the 21 months, the difficulty is that it would in effect be a rejection of Brexit. The Brexit that most of us voted for was one in which the UK returned to being an independent self-governing country, not some half-in, half-out satellite of the EU — still politically tied to the EU. EFTA involves the UK accepting free movement which means being still tied to the EU politically. Absolutely no way. You and others can keep on drumming for it. Mrs. May and Mr. Davis have said that EFTA for the UK is a non-starter and I believe you’d see huge opposition to it if they changed their position.

    As far as where the UK stands at present, it seems to me to be doing just fine. There will be fireworks in 11 months and 27 days. That marks the date of political separation. The 21 months that follow are a period for allowing UK businesses to adapt to the political separation. Nice to get a trade agreement with the EU — but not necessary. I’d say that all is on track for a total political separation and then some type of agreement on trade. But if no agreement on trade, no problem. The newly-independent UK simply reverts to WTO rules.

    It is most important that no political autonomy be given away for a trade deal — which is exactly what EFTA would do. The two must be kept separate if the UK is to become a ‘third country’ (since I consider the EU’s Member States to be provinces, I would refer to it as ‘returning to be a country’ rather than becoming a third country!).

    • Jason BReply

      Phil, both your article and Simon’s are ‘food for thought! what areas would you both consider that Mrs May has in effect so far vacillated on from her ‘Brexit means Brexit’ statement. Where can we find that she has she clearly said that we will, come what may, adopt the WTO upon the expiry of the 21 months transition period.

    • John Petley
      John PetleyReply

      Phil, I wouldn’t say that I’m “Big” on EEA/EFTA. I also agree that if adopted, it MUST be only as a transitional arrangement. I do share your concerns that it could become a bit too permanent. However, in the short term, it’s the least bad option and a considerable improvement on the transitional deal as proposed. If you have a fully detailed alternative proposal that will get us seamlessly out of the EU in less than 12 months’ time, then please send it to me as I’d love to read it. the Bruges group did produce such a plan but the window for it has passed.

      For me, the priority has to be killing off the current proposal. Until this is done, there is little point in Brexit supporters endlessly arguing about alternatives. Hopefully our fishermen will be leading the way here.

  5. Niall WarryReply

    Good post John.

    Efta/EEA is the only sensible interim option and being blunt those who are against it don’t understand it and almost certainly haven’t read Flexcit.

    Ignorance is no excuse for advocating unworkable trading arrangements with our 27 closest neighbours with who we need to maintain the same level of trade remembering ALL trade deals take time and involve rules, regulations, costs and an adjudication process to see fair play.

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