About a week ago, Tony Blair and John Major re entered the fray, with Blair and his associates still claiming that the result of the referendum might be reversed if the situation was seen to have been altered by events.
Of course, while this is not out of the question, it is more an attempt at steering the outcome towards a form of Brexit that can be manipulated to be as close to EU membership as possible by forming a coalition across the centre.
A similar kind of triangulation has this week been attempted by a minister, in that his assistant walked down Downing Street with her notes keenly pointed towards the waiting long lenses of the Paparazzi. Only the very naive will read this as an accidental mishap.
Both are engaged in classic tactical steering. The Government towards the so called ‘Hard Brexit’ in which the we steer away from the EU in one moment rather than as a process, and the Remainers towards any kind of reversal that looks even possible of the referendum result.
In the end, both sides know that they won’t get everything they want. The EU is in a similar position, in that it wants to dissuade other states from holding referendums it therefore would like the outcome to be unpopular in the UK. At the same time though, its powerhouse economies of the north that are currently propping up the ailing Eurozone are significant exporters to the UK, and disruption in that flow would be pretty disastrous for them as well as us – but with the added extra of the fact that we would probably recover lost ground sooner due to our resulting freedom of agency. This would undo any of the benefit the EU received from administering us a ‘punishment beating’ quite quickly.
What we are hearing from all sides is Noise – and little more. Some are suggesting that the government doesn’t have a plan, but to be honest that’s just foolish. Of course they do. Just because the Guardian and the Independent think that the there’s a box file marked Brexit in David Davis’ office with the square root of bugger all in it, it doesn’t make it so. At the same time, pretending that the politicians are the ones coming up with the answers is also ridiculous, that will be the civil servants.
It all adds up to the same thing – the outcome is going to be the one where both sides will have been seen to take losses – but both sides will be seen to have made significant gains.
For the EU it will be the message that it kept trade with the UK on its terms and conditions, and that freedom of movement was contingent to it.
For the UK it will be that we have returned to the conditions of free movement that we agreed to in 1992, without sacrificing trade, and shook off the ECJ, CAP, CFP and the customs union. We are free again to make our own trade deals.
So the outcome will almost certainly, and barring accident be: EEA via EFTA (or a shadow EEA that is redrawn to look like an FTA but with all the contingent conditions).
The nuances of these arguments won’t be heard on either side of the channel – our media will see to that, quite possibly through a lack of understanding but more likely because they like to paint in the kind of opinion reinforcing primary colours that their readers find comforting. The mainstream media is largely (though not entirely) an extension of the bubbles it serves, and for the intelligent or independent, a bit of waste of effort.
The Real danger for Brexit
The battle however, won’t be over at that stage. EEA via EFTA is only meant to be a staging post to a better kind of independence for the UK. It will be reliant on events like any other settlement. And this is really what remain hope to exploit over a period of years.
The Spinelli group of MEPs in 2013 published their draft new treaty of the European Union – the Fundamental Law. The point of this was to be the final treaty – a kind of ‘Windows 10’ moment that would relieve the EU states of the necessity to hold referendums and other unnecessary acts of ratification in the future, while completing the basis for the federal structure of the EU.
Simply put, it was always designed to be the final piece of the European Jigsaw. This saw two levels of EU membership. One would be the full version that we know now, with full Eurozone participation. The second would be a form of Associate membership. The conditions for this were left particularly vague in the text, but the intent was clear. Rather than being a freedom from central control, associate membership was a ‘lock in’ which simply removed the opportunity for the remaining members to hold up the progress of the core towards full integration. The problem is that the core would always outweigh the associates, they would set the direction of travel. At the same time, there would be no freedom from the ECJ or the CAP/CFP – all common resources would remain.
The danger of the EEA/EFTA solution is clear. The EEA can be rolled up at any time under one years notice. The EU states can simply leave together if they so desire. They will not do this unless they can offer the Norwegians (and especially the Norwegians) a different option. The political class in Norway have long wanted to become full EU members, it is the population that has reservations. But were the EEA to be rolled up into associate membership in a decade or so, there is a good chance that the Norwegians would choose that rather than face the cliff edge.
So the EU would probably grant some exemptions to get this passed – CAP and CFP no doubt would be up for discussion. Britain might be offered similar exemption But the reach of the ECJ would not be optional. We would be back where we started.
Removing the EEA before we were ready to move to full independence would leave the UK with a significant issue. We would face a choice that would be portrayed as ‘what we currently have’ against something that makes project fear look like a children’s bedtime story. It would almost certainly be put to a referendum, and quickly, as the timescale would be much shorter than article 50, and we would not be in the driving seat on starting the process of rolling up the EEA. We would have two choices – neither of them palatable.
This is what I think the Remainers tactic will be, to make sure progress halts at the EEA Stage. We know that the people in charge of the government and civil service are Remainers, so while they are in power there will have to be continuing significant pressure on them to ensure further progress.
How realistic this ‘remain’ scenario is, clearly is a question for the reader. I’m not certain it will happen by any means, but I think it is what Remain and the EU would try to engineer if it felt it was feasible. Even after Brexit, Remainers won’t go away. They will wait until an opportunity arises and they will try again to create their vision of a single European State. They are as ideologically wedded to the Single European State as Brexiteers are to national independence, it’s not a passing fancy. The only question in my mind is whether there will be enough of them to make it a reality, or whether they will have the means and the support, and of course whether the EU will be able to stabilise itself enough to reach the next treaty procedure in its current form.
How do we avoid this?
The best route to avoiding this is to make sure that the EEA option is used only as an interim position. That will probably mean mobilising the other EFTA states to move on with a new FTA with the EU that is not seen as a route to membership by either side, but as a permanent Free Trade Deal with no loss of self governance and a very independent dispute resolution system.
I still think that short of being able to agree a full FTA in two years from the Article 50 notification (a near impossibility), the best Brexit for both sides will be the EEA via EFTA solution. It has much of what we want for the short term and the opportunity to have much more in the long term.
But we must not allow remain to hijack it as a permanent solution – because given enough time it could be utilised in a way that returns us to the EU, but in a much less powerful position even than we currently suffer. The EEA solution should therefore come with a pre determined end point, or there may never be sufficient pressure to ever move beyond it, therefore making the remainers the eventual winners in the long game.