Brexiteers should scale back their expectations.
While the likes of Ukip have been forging a populist and emotive view of Britain outside of the EU without much in the way of detail, a selection of ‘pro-market’ researchers and economists have taken a more scientific approach to studying and recommending the UK’s best post-brexit options.
You won’t hear about this plan from the Leave campaign for a number of reasons – not least because most prominent Leave campaigners don’t like it very much. They don’t like it because it challenges a number of their key assumptions, promises, and the seemingly non-negotiable ambitions of the prevailing ‘Leave’ rhetoric.
So what are they saying?
In each case, their proposals put some of the most popular Brexit ambitions – such as control over immigration and the ‘bonfire’ of red tape – on the back burner, and instead prioritises trading opportunity and the reduction of economic risk and uncertainty.
They say it involves the UK leaving the EU via the ‘approved method’, staying a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) but also continuing the UK’s engagement with the EU via membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
Through this it would retain current levels of access and participation in the single market – a major step towards safeguarding trade, jobs, finance, investment, and reducing ‘uncertainty’ to a minimum.
It’s about as close to being a member of the EU without actually being a member of the EU – as it is possible to be.
“It’s about as close to being a member of the EU without actually being a member of the EU – as it is possible to be.”
This EFTA/EEA option offers a couple of quick ‘wins’, such as taking back responsibility for fisheries and agricultural policy, the opportunity to pursue trade agreements with other nations of the world, a reduction in EU contributions and repatriation of powers in several key areas. It’s also a point from which the UK can start to explore its new existence outside the EU… whilst simultaneously keeping the ‘losses’ associated with EU withdrawal to a minimum.
You may have heard this called “the Norway option”, and it being dismissed as “all pay and no say” – the UK would have to accept all the EU rules with no influence over them. Its advocates however present some compelling evidence to suggest that that’s not actually the case.
Of course, like all options (including remaining in the EU) it’s not without its drawbacks… the UK would have to continue to accept free movement of people, the UK would have to continue to ‘pay into’ the EU, take on a significant proportion of EU legislation, and accept rulings from the EFTA court . It couldn’t be described as a “clean break” – but it doesn’t necessarily need to be (and probably won’t be) the end destination itself.
To explain its advantages and disadvantages, here is a quick reference table created by the Adam Smith Institute outlining what EEA membership involves compared to continued EU membership. It should be noted that the author advocates the EEA option for the UK, post-Brexit.
But what’s the most likely Brexit outcome?
A well considered plan for Brexit is all very well, but what is actually the most likely outcome post-Brexit?
When you look at the forces in play, the EEA/EFTA option also appears to be the most likely path that a post-Brexit UK would take.
How so? Consider these points:
- It’s the only option that could feasibly be completed within the two year time window afforded by the Article 50 withdrawal process.
- It represents the ‘safest’ option – in terms of maintaining existing UK/EU trade, safeguarding related jobs, foreign direct investment, financial services etc.
- For the same reason it’s the option that creates the shortest and least extreme period of uncertainty.
- It’s the only option that stands any chance of reuniting a divided and small majority parliamentary Conservative party – well over 50% of which will have voted to remain.
- It would offer the Labour party some consolation by maintaining single market protections for workers rights – its primary argument for remaining in the EU.
- It’s the only option that would get past a heavily Remain-centric House of Commons
- It’s the only option that the civil service would likely be recommending to ministers.
- It’s the only option that confronts just how deeply integrated the UK is with the EU and that this will take time and care to address.
- It’s the only option with which the Government (and PM?) could save face and distance themselves from the dire predictions they made throughout a staunchly pro-EU / anti-Brexit campaign.
- It’s the only option which the EU could readily agree to, sufficiently calming markets, protecting the interests of its member states and institutions.
- The Vote Leave campaign won’t decide what happens.
- The British public won’t decide what happens.
“In short, the EEA/EFTA option will win out because it rescues reputations, relationships, economics and politics.”
The most aggrieved group are likely to be those on the extremes of the debate – such as those that thought they were voting (perhaps understandably) for instant immigration controls, or a complete repatriation of law-making supremacy.
There may well be claims of a “stitch up” but nowhere does ‘immigration’ appear on the ballot paper – a Brexit mandate is simply an instruction to the Government to run the country outside of the EU. Like any Government it will take decisions that it believes is best for the country as a whole – and invariably any path they take will please some people and upset others.
Like most things, Brexit would be a compromise.
Disagree? You have more than 140 characters to say why below…