Flexcit And The Interim EFTA/EEA Brexit Approach Reported On Newsnight

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Having finally analysed every possible facile, gossipy and shallow angle on the EU referendum in breathtaking detail, finally the media get round to examining the ideas laid out long ago in the only existing comprehensive Brexit plan

Well, it had to happen eventually. Tired of adjudicating shrill and pointless contests in unsupported assertions and lying by omission from Vote Leave and Britain Stronger in Europe, some in the media have finally started paying attention to the safe, stable Brexit option which was there all along.

Tony Edwards of The Brexit Door blog marks the occasion:

The Liberal Case for Leave, written by Roland Smith for the Adam Smith Institute, is based on the Flexcit plan. Roland is one of a number of us who have coalesced around this idea, proposed by Flexcit author Dr Richard North of the EU Referendum Blog, that Brexit should be a multi stage project. To avoid shocks, and to escape diplomatic impasse, we must take each stage in a safe and ordered manner. This not only avoids economic pitfalls, but reassures the people that will not vote to leave the EU, or would like to but are risk averse, that they are not being forced into some great leap of faith, that there is a sensible route to full democratic freedom.

And now, in the last week, Flexcit as a plan has finally broken cover and its first stage is being discussed openly by members of Parliament, Talk radio, the BBC, the Telegraph and today the rest of the print media  (although sometimes not by name).

Tony goes on to point out an important point which is overlooked by many detractors on the Brexit side – that the EEA/EFTA arrangement is transitional, the departure lounge from the EU rather than the ultimate destination:

What is not always being heard in the public domain, and what Roland Smith explained last night, is that the EEA stage of Flexcit is transitory. It will last for a number of years for several reasons, but will not be the end point for a post EU membership UK.

Firstly, while we will want to build trade links with the rest of the world, we will also want to preserve our current markets while we do this. EFTA has been very good at negotiating FTAs, and while in EFTA there is no impediment for the UK in seeking deals within and without the group. We lose no competence in this area to EFTA as we do to the EU – that’s a massive difference in the level of freedom of action the UK will gain immediately.

While Pete North celebrates:

Thanks to Roland “White Wednesday” Smith, our comprehensive Brexit plan made a bit of a splash these evening having been announced on Newsnight as the plan under consideration by the civil service. As ever Newsnight managed to make a pigs ear of it without expanding on the critical details but it’s free publicity.

Lost Leonardo of the excellent Independent Britain blog is pleased, but unimpressed by cynical efforts underway by assorted Remainers to slander the interim EEA/EFTA (Norway) Option as some kind of betrayal of a vote to leave the EU, when it is no such thing:

With the legacy media finally turning its attention to the realities of Brexit—even Newsnight is now name-checking Flexcit—now seems like a good time to look again at the great vistas of opportunity that await a post-exit Britain.

First of all though, one has to address the “criticism”—if one can really call shouting, stamping of feet and pulling of hair critique—that adopting a phased approach to EU exit has elicited from a portion of the legacy media and the oh-so-tedious legacy campaigns.

It scarcely needs saying, but the Remainers’ feigned concern for the most belligerent voices in the “leave” camp is beyond cynical. The same people who have spent weeks, months, even years, verbally abusing anybody who has expressed the view that immigration is a bit high are now saying that it would be a “betrayal” for the UK government, supported by the House of Commons, to insist upon using the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement as a staging post for disengaging from the EU’s political and judicial union without any of the economic after effects that David Cameron and George Osborne have so irresponsibly exaggerated. Give me a break.

The hysterical reaction of Vote Leave and its associated sycophants is particularly loathsome. That organisation has done everything in its power to prevent the idea of a pragmatic, practical and non-hostile Brexit plan, which addresses the political realities as we find them not as we might like them to be, from taking hold in the public imagination.

This is a point which this blog also hammered home:

There is nothing on the paper whatsoever about the European Economic Area or “single market”. A vote to leave the EU is a vote for Britain to do exactly that – to leave an explicitly political, ever-tightening union of European countries all embarked on a journey to one day become a common state (as the EU’s founders and current leaders happily admit).

Many people are rightly now coming to the conclusion that the best way to achieve Brexit with the minimum of political and economic disruption is to exit to an “off the shelf” interim solution which already exists in the form of the EFTA/EEA membership enjoyed by Norway. This is why David Cameron has suddenly started talking about “a vote to leave the single market” over the past few days – it is a tacit admission that if we vote to leave the EU but remain in the EEA, every single one of the Remain campaign’s arguments are instantly negated.

Hence the [eagerness of Remainers] to do everything possible to slander the interim EFTA/EEA option, painting it as some kind of unconscionable scam when in fact it is an utterly pragmatic and realistic way of leaving the European Union while completely avoiding all of the apocalyptic economic scenarios which the Remain camp love to throw around.

The official Leave Alliance blog takes a deserved mini victory lap, while warning of the newfound hostility to the plan among Remain supporters and some unreconstructed Leavers. Proclaiming that reality is finally sinking in, Ben Kelly writes:

One of the most crucial elements of The Market Solution [..] is its aim of de-risking Brexit and neutralising the economic uncertainty associated with a vote to leave. We offer several scenarios that would minimise disruption and protect the economy and the most optimal of those is the EFTA/EEA route a.k.a the “EEA option” a.k.a the “Norway option”.

Leaving the EU will be a staged process; the EFTA/EEA route facilitates our transition from an EU Member State to an independent nation by protecting the economy, simplifying secession negotiations and providing us with a soft landing and a decent perspective of what “out” looks like for the near future. One of the key aims of The Leave Alliance was to disseminate this Brexit scenario amongst influential opinion formers; we were rebuffed by Vote Leave and Leave.eu, but we are now having great success late in the day as the EEA option is becoming potentially pivotal.

Due to the fact that it means leaving the EU in an economically secure way it has been the source of much fear for remainers, hence why they do everything they can to smear it. Many on the Leave side can’t get past the fact it means retaining freedom of movement, but their folly is to assume that controlling our borders is simple and abolishing free movement is a silver bullet. They are unreasonably uncompromising in refusing to accept the necessity of a transitional arrangement; we cannot leave the EU in one fell swoop.

Overall, a positive development, though we may wish to recall the words of Winston Churchill: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead”.

Suddenly, at long last the interim EFTA/EEA option is being discussed seriously at the highest levels in politics and the media. It took an extraordinary effort to make it happen – involving the tireless work of many of my Leave Alliance colleagues, and more than a little subterfuge here and there to ensure that the Great And The Good of British political life actually took it seriously rather than summarily rejecting it as the work of mere citizens, but here we are.

But with little more than two weeks to go until we cast our votes, is there enough time to establish the right narratives about the Norway Option and rebut the desperate smears of the Remain campaign? Or will it be too little, too late?

 

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The Liberal Case For ‘Leave’

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The European Union is an obsolete and rusting vessel – a dreadnought in an age of guided missile destroyers – holed beneath the waterline by the forces of globalisation

If you have not already done so, be sure to read Roland Smith’s excellent new article for the Adam Smith Institute, “The Liberal Case for Leave“.

Smith, a newly-minted Fellow of the ASI, begins with an excellent summary of the context in which Britain joined the EU in the first place – which also has the effect of showing what a vastly different country we are now than we were at the nadir of our post-war, pre-Thatcher decline:

Let’s bypass the line that says the UK electorate were sold the then EEC on a false premise. Instead let’s look at the circumstances in Britain around the time we joined the EEC and then agreed to stay as a result of the 1975 referendum.

Back then Britain was a country beset by nagging economic problems that were coming to a head: The constant stop/go policies of the post-war period that seemed to only inch us forward while the likes of Germany and Japan seemed to leap ahead; strikes; power cuts; rations even; union power; consensus politics; corporatism; and the 3-day week. Opinion favouring free markets was out on the political fringes.

On a longer view, Britain was a country in decline. Since World War II and particularly since the Suez crisis of 1956, Britain’s empire and its confidence had declined as it grappled with a new post-imperial future. The USA and the Soviet Union were the two blocs that now mattered in the world, each having their own large economic trading zone (the USA itself and Comecon).

Indeed, large and protected blocs seemed to be the future and the EEC was apparently forging a third bloc and third way between these two giants, albeit aligned to the USA.

Then there were the walls.

The most visible walls were the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain separating the Soviet Union from the West but there were also significant tariff “walls” between blocs, countries and trading areas. These walls not only demarcated different geographic areas, they reinforced the separateness of those areas, limited trade, and ultimately put a limit on economic progress. The tariff walls in particular defined economic blocs but also made the case for them, creating an impulse for relatively like-minded countries to club together to at least forge a level of economic freedom among themselves.

Smith rightly summarises the prevailing attitude of the time:

Being “for Europe” symbolically represented a future, outward-looking, cosmopolitan and internationalist mindset. It confirmed that you were part of the new jetset or had aspirations in that direction. It was about “getting on”.

Smith goes on to note that Britain joined the EEC just at the time when all of the old certainties which underpinned it began to show the first signs of corrosion – the decline and fall of the Soviet Union bringing an end to the necessity of regional super-blocs, and the decade of negotiations which led to the creation of the World Trade Organisation in 1995.

With the beginning of significant reductions in global tariffs and even the emergence of many new nations, the European Union – a protectionist customs union with explicit and long held aspirations for statehood – was already falling behind the times, as Smith describes:

Unseen and barely discussed in the 1990s, globalisation was beginning to eat into the logic of a political European Union at the very point it was striding towards statehood with a single euro currency.

Looking back, the EU was (and is) an old ideology in a hurry.

The event that was somewhat more attuned to freer globalised trading was the fanfare around the launch of the single market in 1992, except for the fact that it was and is tied to the EU’s political integrationist ambitions. But now, even the European single market is being rapidly eclipsed by the march of globalisation. A large and growing body of single market law is now made at global level and handed down to the EU which in turn hands it down to the member states.

The automotive industry’s standards are defined by the World Forum for the Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations (known as WP.29) under ‘UNECE’ – a United Nations body. Food standards are defined by the ‘Codex Alimentarius’ established by the UN and the World Health Organisation. Modern labour regulations are defined by the ILO – the International Labour Organisation. Maritime regulations are defined by the International Maritime Organisation. Many energy-related regulations can be traced back to the global Kyoto accord on climate change and other international agreements.

Read the whole article. Roland Smith covers an extraordinary amount of ground in his essay, including more sense on immigration policy than you will ever hear from the official Leave and Remain campaigns.

While the EU’s furtive aspirations for statehood are misguided and abhorrent, many of the ways in which the European Union has developed were born not out of particular malice toward the sovereignty of its member states but merely as the result of being perpetually stuck in an increasingly irrelevant post-war mindset. Unlike many rent-a-copy diatribes against the EU, Smith captures this nuance well.

If we are to succeed against the odds in securing Brexit in this EU referendum, it will not be the alarmist cries about impending dictatorship or the abolition of the NHS which secure victory.

Reasonable, moderately engaged people – those with vague eurosceptic thoughts but who are minded to vote Remain because of the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt kicked up by the government that those with vested interests in keeping things as they are – are most likely to be persuaded to Vote Leave if they are told that the EU is not necessarily the Great Satan, but rather a hopelessly outdated mid-century anachronism thrashing around and drowning in the sea of globalisation.

Given the choice, people will quickly vote with their feet when it comes to safely evacuating a foundering ship. Which is why the Remain camp are doing their utmost to portray the EU as a faithful and seaworthy vessel, albeit one in need of a lick of paint here and there.

This important article by Roland Smith – as well as outlining a bright and positive liberal vision for Brexit – also sounds a timely warning that RMS European Union has essentially been holed below the waterline by the iceberg of globalisation and is already steadily taking on water, regardless of the course it now chooses to steer.

And the fact that the lights still burn and the band plays cheerily on as the water laps ever higher around the deck is no reason for Britain to foresake the waiting lifeboat on offer.

 

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