Ireland may lose badly by obstructive behaviour over the border

This piece, by Ray Bassett, was forwarded to us by the veteran Irish Eurosceptic Anthony Coughlan

Playing the EU’s Game on the Border Will Damage Ireland’s Interests, says former Irish diplomat in Politeia’s new analysis.

Dublin should accept UK border plan and work with Britain to make Brexit a success for both islands

The Irish border has become an obstacle to the Brexit negotiations. All sides want to keep the border ‘soft’ and friction free and preserve the gains of the Good Friday Agreement. But the EU and Dublin have rejected Britain’s proposals.

In Politeia’s next publication, Brexit and the Border: where Ireland’s True Interests Lie, Ray Bassett considers the border against the background and reality of Ireland’s economic and political interests, and the options for the UK government. A former diplomat, who served as Ireland’s Ambassador to Canada and was also a Good Friday Agreement negotiator, Dr Bassett explains that the Irish Government’s present policy is not in the country’s best interests. It leaves Ireland dangerously exposed if the border problem scuppers an overall EU/UK deal.

The author analyses the different options floated to ‘solve’ the border question. Politically the only possible solution is one based on technology along the lines proposed by the UK. This would be based on a trusted trader programme. Proven models, such as that in Australia, already exist from which some useful features might be adopted.

By contrast the EU’s proposals would endanger the stability of the island. Brussels should abandon its red line that anything on the island of Ireland must “maintain the integrity of the Union’s (i.e. the EU’s) Legal Order”. Bassett questions the wisdom of the Irish Government in aligning itself with Brussels at a time when the EU itself is undergoing changes, none of which are in Ireland’s interests. Moreover, a number of national elections across the EU have made clear a rising alienation of voters from the centralising policies of the present EU.

Irish leaders should change course and work to resolve the border dispute rapidly and towards a comprehensive free trade agreement between the UK and the EU. Given the historic, ethnic, cultural and economic links between Ireland and Britain, it is strongly in their country’s interests to do so. Ireland needs a successful Brexit.

The author concludes by proposing the Irish government should:

 *   Make clear both to London and Brussels that the Border must not be used as a weapon to thwart Brexit.
 *   Enter into immediate and practical bilateral discussions with London to resolve the border question.
 *   Work with the British government and the political parties in Northern Ireland to avoid any undue hardening of cross-border arrangements on the island of Ireland.
 *   Work with the British government to avoid any new barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
 *   Seek to join EFTA and leave the EU. EFTA membership would facilitate continued trade with the EU and allow a free trade with the from outside the Customs Union

Commenting on the legal framework, Professor David Collins explains that legally Bassett’s proposals would work well to Ireland’s interests. Liam Halligan explains why economically, Ireland cannot afford to play the EU’s game over the border, but should accept that Ireland’s economic interests demand that it should work with Britain to develop and put into effect the technological solution.

The paper was launched at a special meeting in House of Commons Committee on Thursday 17th May, with the speakers including the author, Ray Bassett, David Collins, Professor of International Economic Law, City University, and Liam Halligan, co-author of Clean Brexit with Gerard Lyons and Economics Columnist at The Sunday Telegraph.

THE  AUTHOR


Dr Ray Bassett has been a senior diplomat at Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin and has served as the country’s Ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas 2010-2016. Other diplomatic postings include Copenhagen, Canberra, Belfast (twice), London and Ottawa. He was involved in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations as part of the Irish Government Talks Team and participated throughout the discussions, including the final session at Castle Buildings in Stormont.


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.

  

 

Trust you, Mrs May?

 

In an article in the Sunday Times, Prime Minister Theresa May implored voters to trust her to deliver Brexit. “I will ensure that we take back control of our borders…our money…[and] our laws.” she said.

But why should we trust her? After being office for over 18 months, there is no sign that she has come up with a trustworthy exit route that would see us make a clean break with the EU while at the same time allowing trade to continue reasonably seamlessly. Coming back to work after a week’s holiday, I signed on to my computer to find that nothing has changed; nothing has progressed. Mrs May and the Brexit negotiations are still going round in circles. An unworkable “customs partnership” is still being pursued even though no less than HMRC has described the current proposals as “unviable.” Michael Gove likewise claimed that there were “significant question marks” about them.  Mrs May has split her cabinet into two asking them both to pursue what, to any intelligent analysis, are two different but equally impractical solutions to keeping our trade flowing with the EU, including across the Irish border.

Why should we trust her when the obvious solution  – at least in the short term – to this problem is under her nose but she has so far steadfastly refused to change tack and replace her unworkable proposals with something which will get us out of the EU while giving her a longer breathing space to negotiate a longer-term arrangement? I am referring, of course, to the EEA/EFTA arrangement. Nigel Moore has written an article which sums up its strengths. Yes, it has weaknesses too – I hardly need point that out to regular readers of this blog. The weaknesses are, however, far fewer than those of the arrangements Mrs May is proposing. In particular, we can regain total control over our fishing, we can keep goods flowing across the Irish border and we will be beyond the reach of the European Court of Justice.  For more on this, please see also the “EFTA 4 UK” Facebook page.

Why should we trust her when she seems so keen to keep us shackled to the European Arrest Warrant? Her argument that other extradition routes are more costly and time consuming is a red herring. The EAW is fatally flawed and has exposed UK citizens to flawed criminal justice systems abroad on the basis of the flimsiest of evidence.

Why should we trust her when, under her watch, several agreements have been signed without Parliamentary debate (and possibly without some MPs even being aware of what is going on) which tie us to the EU’s military programme?

The Daily Express published an article today about a secret document, known as FCO30/1048, which, it claimed, was locked away under Official Secrets Act rules for almost three decades. The author’s identity is unknown, but was most likely a senior civil servant in the Foreign Office. The document, which was written before we joined the EU, suggested the Government should keep the British public in the dark about what EEC membership means predicting that it would take 30 years for voters to realise what was happening, by which time it would be too late to leave. Thankfully, the author was wrong about the last point but correctly predicted that “the increased role of Brussels in the lives of the British people would lead to a “popular feeling of alienation from Government”.

There is nothing new here. Christopher Booker mentioned this paper in a piece for the Sunday Telegraph six years ago, having discovered it as far back as 2002. However, the Express is bringing it to our attention at a very opportune moment. Mrs May has been given the chance to rebuild trust in the government and in politicians in general. She is asking for our trust and if she delivers a successful Brexit, the beginning of  that rebuilding of trust will be part of her legacy. Getting rid of her current Brexit advisor, the untrustworthy Europhile Civil Servant Ollie Robbins, whose poor advice may well be hampering her, would be a good start, but she needs to go a lot further.

As things stand, Mrs May is leading us towards a chaotic Brexit in Name Only which will only further alienate voters from the political system while possibly precipitating the worst crisis in her party since 1846. It is not too late for her to change course – after all, she did promise not to call an early General Election  and then changed her mind. That decision proved disastrous, but as far as Brexit goes, a change of direction would actually prevent, rather than precipitate a disaster, both for the Conservative party and for the country as a whole.

Photo by Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916

Confusion over our legal status in the transition period

During the House of Lords select committee on 1st. May 2018, the Earl of Kinnoull said to David Davis Brexit Secretary of State,  “I want to come back to what you said about the European Union not being able to agree a treaty with us while we are still members. I have been troubled and scratching my head over that”.

He is not the only one. Article 50, the mechanism which secures the UK departure from the EU as from  30th March 2019, raises two serious problems.

1) The EU treaties, and thus all its regulations will cease to apply to the UK as from 30th  March 2019.

2) The EU can’t sign a Treaty with the UK while the UK is still a Member, meaning the earliest being 30th March 2019.

Put together, these two conditions cause serious problems, because if you compare the procedure in joining the then EEC in 1972, there was an orderly procedure. First came the signing  the  treaty of membership on 22nd January 1972, and then followed the ratification process, resulting in the European Communities 1972 Act, which ensured everything was ready to commence membership on 1st January 1973.

The leaving process, by contrast, is topsy-turvy. The procedure has been reversed. Taking evidence from David Davis during the Lords’ session and the House of Commons select committee of 25th April, you can understand why the Earl of Kinnoull is scratching his head. Mr Davis appears to be contradicting himself.

Before the House of Commons, he stated that there will be several votes on the outcome of the negotiations with the first vote being what has been referred to as the “meaningful” vote: a vote on the overall treaty and agreement in both Houses.  We will do this before the European Parliament will vote on it. Here are some of the questions:-

Q1388 Chair: Will the document on the future relationship be a political declaration or a draft treaty?

Mr Davis: It will be at that stage a statement of the Council. I would not imagine we will have legal text at that point.

Q1389 Chair: What status will it have if it just a statement of the Council?

Mr Davis: Nearer to political declaration than draft treaty. It will not be in draft as a legal text at that stage.

Q1390 Chair: It is likely to be a political declaration, and a political declaration is not a treaty.

Mr Davis: No, it is not a treaty. Again, to remind you of previous evidence, Mr Chairman, when I have appeared in front of this Committee I have reminded you that the requirements of European law are that they cannot sign a treaty with us until we are a third country. That means they cannot sign a treaty, which is the only point at which a treaty becomes in any way binding, until the first days of April or the last day of March in 2019.

Q1391 Chair How can Parliament set any store by it if it is asked to vote on this whole process when the really important question of our future relationship is merely a statement of the Council in the form of a political declaration and not a draft treaty?

Mr Davis: That does not mean the Council will not view it as binding. After all, each of the agreements we have come to in December and March are seen as binding. They are not legally binding but we view them as completely politically binding. (By International Law, not EU Law)

In summary, Mr Davis told the House of Commons that there may be more than one treaty, for a start. It is impossible. We do not know what the full structure of the treaty will look like: whether security and defence will be separate from the future economic partnership. It is quite possible. Some of these things will have substantive domestic effects, so they will of course come with Acts of Parliament before the House as well.

However, he told the House of Lords that we have to have everything pretty well nailed down even legally at the beginning of the implementation period. It will not be ratified, because they cannot sign a deal with us until we are a third country, which will be shortly after formal departure from the Union, but the ratification process will also take place during that period. To achieve this, the agreement must be basically complete by October, at least in joint report-type terms, and fully legally watertight by the time we leave.

He added that signatures will not be put to the treaty until after Brexit Day because “they can only sign with a third party, as Lord Jay knows better than most, I guess. So I will aim to conclude the negotiation, if I can get to that point by then, so that they can sign and then start the ratification process. Remember that ratification will require a brand new European Parliament, which will only just be being elected at that point, and a brand new Commission, and almost certainly—for some of it at least, if not for all of it—it will be a mixed agreement, so it will go round the Parliaments of Europe. So there is quite a lot to get done in ratification terms. We absolutely have to have ratification concluded before the implementation period is over, otherwise we will be in a sort of limbo.”

We need to remember that ratification is the  action of signing or giving formal consent to a treaty, contract, or agreement, making it officially valid. That is , valid according to EU Law. An example of this took place with Denmark over Maastricht and Ireland over Lisbon, where EU law did not apply until after ratification yet International Law did – and of course, under the proposed implementation period, we would expect to be under the ECJ, so what would be the legal basis?

In summary, like Lord Kinnoull, we are all scratching our heads, because it is utter confusion. It needs some bright lawyer to pin Davis down to what is going on. I have only taken this line of investigation  because I questioned the legal right for the UK to have exclusive use of the 12 nautical mile fishing limit during the implementation period, fearing that we could run the risk of EU vessel owners, not only fishing inside that limit, but taking the UK to court, as happened in the Kent Kirk case in 1983.

Report from Greece: Revolution postponed

The first thing which you notice about the Greeks is their kindness and consideration to visitors. From the moment we were met at the airport, Ellen and I were well looked after. We had the sort of tour of Athens which is not available to the tourist, accompanied by the sort of information which is disregarded by the mainstream media.

Ours was a modest sort of hotel, not far from Syntagma Square where the rally was to be held and it was literally between two worlds. The hotel was spick and span: on one side was a handsome square with the great Church of St Constantine- imposing without and glorious within- as well as other handsome  private and public buildings and shops.

On the other side were filthy streets with people delving into dustbins for anything edible or of possible value. This was an area of high illegal immigration and, whilst it might be easy for a wealthy Western liberal to condemn the Greeks for a lack of official compassion, one has to remember how greatly the Greeks too have been pauperised by the EU.

Those who attended our 2017 CIB rally in London will remember Ambassador Chrysanthopoulos telling us that his pension had been cut from 3,500 euros per month to 1,200 – and he is one of the fortunate! A leading lawyer told me that his wife, a civil servant of 18 years’ service with two doctorates, now receives a salary of around 800 euros a month – and she too, is fortunate. A senior insurance manager told me how he was unemployed for three years. State benefits and health service entitlement cease after one year. He now considers himself lucky to be working for the same salary which his secretary had ten years ago. Below the senior careerists of the international set, these are people who recognise that they are fortunate in comparison with very, very many of their fellow countrymen and women.

So we did not quite know what to expect, as we made our way to Syntagma ( Constitution) Square in front of the parliament building for the demonstration.

There was a stage and loud recorded music of folk songs with which those assembling joined. In between, an impressively energetic lady moved around with a microphone, inviting impromptu speeches,  all of which were heartfelt and some clearly born of deepest despair but tinged with stern defiance.  Then there was a live folk group and a much-appreciated performance of Greek dance by agile young men.

The crowd was slow in assembling and not in the hoped-for  numbers. Not only had a media blackout been imposed earlier but the mainstream media was warning people to stay away because of possible trouble with a rival anarchist rally nearby. There was a fairly low-key police presence but I noticed several police vehicles around the square about the size of a regular bus, which probably contained reinforcements if needed.

When it came to the platform speeches, I could not follow much – my Greek only being adequate to ask the way or order a meal. However, the priest who spoke before me commenced with “Christos anesti” (Christ is risen) to which the audience responded. Several times in his speech he referred to “Orthodoxia” (Orthodoxy) and the Gospel (Evangelion).

Then it was my turn with the ever-vivacious Georgia Bitakou as interpreter. She was magnificent and I enjoyed double applause for many of the points I made – firstly from the members of the audience who understood English and then from those who followed her translation. That was quite a bonus!

When I came to finish, using quotations from the poetry of Byron, as Jim Reynolds did a while ago, she put heart and soul into it. I could not help reflecting that she was just the sort of lady who inspired Byron and would defend any barricade to the last.

Then coincidence reached out with a long arm. Manu Bennett, a Maori from New Zealand, was inspired to make his speech by the seven hundred of his kinsmen who lie buried in Crete, attempting to defend that Greek Island against the aggression of fascism. He was joined on the platform by an impressive gentleman in traditional Cretan dress which would be recognised by anybody who watched the film of the capture of the German General Kreipe.

Our family business used to buy large quantities of New Zealand milk powder before that was forbidden by the European Common Agricultural Policy. That betrayal of our friends made me angry in 1972 as it still makes me angry now.

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Here are the words of the speech which was so well received:-

IT IS A GREAT HONOUR to be invited to speak here to our Greek friends who are fighting the same battle as ourselves to recover self government and independence for our countries. IT IS A PLEASURE to meet the tough, undaunted people who so cheerfully continue the fight in the face of the appalling damage which the institutions of the EU and the International Monetary Fund have inflicted on the Greek people – including the deaths of hundreds of thousands whose lives have been sacrificed on the altar of austerity, dead from malnutrition, lack of heating in winter and the plundering of resources from their hospitals and health service.

This process of plunder, including the forced sale of public assets and utilities, is portrayed as somehow helping Greece out – each additional tranche of unrepayable debt as somehow helping the Greek people, when all it represents is a transfer of liabilities from banks to taxpayers – privatising any profits and socialising the losses.

At the beginning, many people in Britain and Greece believed that the EU was a benign project, dedicated to peace and economic development – but it always was about power – power to in the hands of very few untouchable people. As early as 1947, A British politician, Peter Thorneycroft, wrote in Design for Europe “No government dependent on a democratic vote could possibly agree in advance to the sacrifice any adequate plan must involve. The British people must be led slowly and unconsciously into the abandonment of their traditional economic defences”. Thorneycroft later became Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) and Chairman of the Conservative party. What an arrogant insult to a people who had just fought a world war to defend their democratic self-government – to lead them deceitfully into a new form of definitely undemocratic government, of which they were to be kept in ignorance.

In 1962 the leader of the Labour party, Hugh Gaitskell, warned that joining the European Economic Community would be for us “The end of a thousand years of history” – the time over which our constitution and self-government evolved. Greek democracy has a longer history but the modern independence, achieved in 1821, is, for the time being, extinguished. But not forever! If I judge your fighting spirit right, the fire of freedom will blaze again and not be long in coming!

General De Gaulle saw the reality of the European project. In 1965 he said “As for the Commission, it deserves to disappear. I want no more of Hallstein (the President)….I want no more to do with them…I want no more that the French government should have to do business with these types…. They are all enemies. They have been put there by our enemies”.

In 1990, Mrs Thatcher put it this way. “Mr Delors (President of the Commission) said ….that he wanted the European Parliament to be the democratic body…He wanted the Commission to be the Executive and the Council of Ministers to be the Senate …. No! No! No!” which reminds me of the response of the Greek people to Mussolini which was also “No” and you celebrate the event to this day as a national holiday.

Today’s Mussolinis are less flamboyant and more subtle – people like Giuliano Amato, one-time Italian Prime Minister and Vice president of the European Constitutional Convention. He was interviewed by Barbara Spinelli who reported in La Stampa of 13 July 2000 “He said that sovereignty lost on a national level does not pass to any new individual. It is entrusted to a faceless entity… eventually the EU. The EU is the vanguard of this changing world… The new entity is faceless and those in command can neither be identified nor elected. As a matter of fact the metamorphosis is already here. All we need are a few corrections here and there along with a great deal of cunning”.

There is nothing much we can do to the successors of Jacques Delors and Giuliano Amato. They are largely faceless and immune. But they and those like them could never have the least power over us, if it had not first been surrendered by our own countrymen, politicians in positions of trust, bound by the most sacred commitment to uphold the integrity and sovereignty of the state. Those are the people who are to blame – regardless of party. Mark them well and make sure they never, ever hold office again!

We are seeing them now in Britain, trying to overturn the verdict of the people in the referendum because they have given their first loyalty to a foreign power, the European Union. Yet they look and speak like our fellow countrymen. One of the most odious things about this is that many of them claim to be acting out of concern for the powers and tradition of our parliament – something which never troubled them in the least when they were handing massive power to the EU.

General De Gaulle and Mrs. Thatcher were both betrayed by their own colleagues. Two of the strongest political personalities in Europe slowed down the European project for a while but could not stop it. Yet I am sure that our united peoples can do it, if we keep our wits about us. That and a sense of trust, of duty to our respective countries, inherited from one generation and handed down to the next in a lively tradition. We can learn from each other’s experiences.

So we also support the Greek people in their battle to secure the territorial integrity of their state in its rich regional diversity and cultural Hellenic unity. We look with concern on the political instability of this region, adversely affect by Western operations which have succeeded only in driving the movement of millions of migrants with unassimilable, unappeasable alien ideology through Greece and into Europe. This process of mass migration is deliberately supported and approved by the EU as a means of breaking up and destroying cohesive peoples and nations.

Our Secretary Jim Reynolds visited here a few years ago, initiating and strengthening our friendship and co-operation. I can do no better than he, in ending with some verses of Lord Byron:-

 

The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece!

Where burning Sappho loved and sung.

Where grew the arts of war and peace,

Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung!

Eternal summer gilds them yet,

But all, except their sun, is set.

The mountains look on Marathon –

And Marathon looks on the sea,

And musing there an hour alone,

I dreamed that Greece might still be free;

For standing on the Persians’ grave,

I could not deem myself a slave.

 

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.