Wednesday, 30 August 2017

There is no Mandate for EFTA EEA

As I wrote in a previous blog, "You could be forgiven for thinking the question over the Single Market had been settled." But unfortunately, we now see claims that the Referendum campaign did not provide a mandate to leave the Single Market being revived (again).

1) Pretending that the Referendum campaign did not discuss leaving the Single Market has been categorically debunked, not least in Andrew Neil's demolition of Open Britain's James McGrory.  It is insulting the public's intelligence to suggest that this was not understood. Since the Referendum, we have had the Lancaster House speech, the Conservative and DUP General Election manifestos, the Queens speech based on those manifesto commitments and a vote against Chukka Umunna's Single Market amendment by 322 to 101 - all committed to leaving the Single Market.

2)  Even worse, we then have the argument that voters don't have enough understanding of the EU or Single Market to understand the effects of leaving. This of course is exactly the line of argument used by Remain refuseniks who wish to reject or overturn the Referendum. The same argument used by MacMillan and Heath to get us into the EEC in the first place while concealing the loss of sovereignty involved. The same argument used for decades afterwards as EU treaty after EU treaty was signed without consulting the British public. It amounts to the metropolitan elite and political class saying "its all too complex for you, we know best".

3) The same people who propagate this view of voters are remarkably quick to seize on polling that suggests public support for the single market (the same single market voters apparently do not understand). A Comres poll for the BBC in July 2016 is quoted as showing 66% think retaining the Single Market should be a priority for the Government. Except upon examination, this is actually 66% support for "maintaining access to the single market so Britain can have free trade with the EU". Free Trade access to the Single Market is completely different from being inside the Single Market with all its associated restrictions - as voters and pollsters well know.

A more accurate view of public sentiment is provided by the YouGov Poll of August 2016, which compared the Norway EFTA EEA model with a Canadian Free Trade Agreement (FTA) model. The majority view was that the Norway model was not a good deal and was not seen as respecting the result of the Referendum.

Rather like those arguing over Article 127 of the EEA Agreement, EFTA EEA supporters are making a disingenuous case on "mandate" rather than making a positive case for the EFTA EEA option, precisely because they don't believe people will freely choose EFTA EEA over an FTA. In fact they tend to argue against other options and then defend the EEA option as being "not as bad as you think". Here's a quick preview of the EFTA EEA arguments I've seen:

1) The original case made for EFTA EEA was the 2-year Article 50 deadline - an "off-the-shelf" interim or transitional arrangement was needed to avoid a disastrous cliff-edge scenario and buy time to negotiate a full settlement - a case I argued during the Referendum. But even EFTA EEA supporters now admit that  EFTA EEA is a destination, not a transition.

2) The sacrifice of sovereignty is justified by reduced marginal cost of trading with the EU. But what is this cost of leaving the Single Market and is it outweighed by the impact to domestic economy, trade with rest of the world - never mind the sovereignty sacrifice? If marginal costs to trade with the EU is the over-riding factor, then why not have a Customs Union? Why not stay in the EU? Why not join the Euro (which would eliminate currency exchange costs)? Why not join Schengen (which eliminates the cost of passport checks at the border)?

3) Claiming the EEA agreement is really just a sophisticated FTA based on mutuality and co-operation. In reality, the EEA is founded upon the principle of homogeneity and is designed to export EU single market law to the EFTA EEA states - primarily as a prelude to full EU membership. Wanting the (supposed) advantages of harmonisation while cherry-picking elements to disagree with is very much "cake and eating it" territory - it won't wash with the EU.

4) Claiming EEA safeguard measures can provide us with the same sovereignty over immigration control as a third country. The best rebuttal of this I have seen is an article by Christian Stensrund for Civitas .The EU have been crystal clear regarding the indivisibility of the four freedoms. If the EU wanted to soften this line to accommodate Britain, they would have done so during the negotiations with David Cameron. Even if the claim were true, by itself this does not make EFTA EEA superior to a third country option.

5) EFTA EEA allows Britain to pursue its own trade policy. This is true for tariffs, but lack of regulatory freedom would prevent Britain from negotiating on regulations and non-tariff barriers with third countries - which is where the value of modern free trade agreements lies. EEA Protocol 12 exemplifies this - the EU has sole initiative to negotiate Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) - EFTA EEA states can only make parallel agreements harmonised with the EU MRAs.

I could (and probably will in subsequent posts) go into much more detail on why the case for EFTA EEA is flawed and disingenuous. But I will end this post by emphasising that far from there being no mandate to leave the single market, there is in fact no mandate for the single market. It is for those proposing EFTA EEA to make a compelling case as to the advantages of a permanent EFTA EEA settlement - something they have singularly failed to do so far.


  1. Another key point is that retaining EEA / Single market membership is not an option legally. UK might be well able to seamlessly transition to it, but only by applying to join EFTA and getting EU/EEA approval, as I understand. So it's not a given, and leaving the EU does literally mean leaving the SM (and EUCU).

    Whilst this may be seen as a technicality, it reinforces the lack of mandate for it and the need for its supporters to make the positive case to join EFTA/EEA.

    Plus, depending on the depth and complexity of the EFTA/EEA commitment, the upward devolution of legislative powers, and in coming so soon after an EU m'ship vote - there's a strong case that joining EFTA/EEA should need its own referendum...

  2. I cocncur with your understanding that we would have to first leave EU/EEA and then apply to re-join EFTA and EEA. I also fully agree that it is for EFTA EEA supporters to make the case *for* this option, rather than trying to argue we haven't committed to leaving EEA.