Tuesday, 19 April 2016

So we're agreed. EEA or nothing

Little needs to be said of the Gove speech today. Michael Gove is not a man who speaks from a position of knowledge. All he has accomplished with his intervention is to sow yet more doubt about what Brexit looks like. It was unhelpful and a further contribution toward losing the intellectual argument. But actually, what a bunch of self-selecting Toryboys say is neither here nor there. What matters is what will happen in reality.

John Springford and Simon Tilford from the Centre for European Reform are not by any measure Brexit advocates. They conclude that "In reality, EU leaders will force a Brexiting prime minister to choose between two options: membership of the European Economic Area, or nothing. Why? Because they hold stronger cards – and for political reasons, they will want to avoid a special deal for Britain at any cost."

They have it that "Germany and France will say: “it’s all or nothing”. Join the European Economic Area, or no deal. EEA membership would, economically speaking, be similar to the status quo but would amount to a loss of sovereignty."

I don't disagree that economically it would be similar to the status quo. However, given that we would have a genuine emergency brake on freedom of movement, a free vote at all the global top tables and right of opt out, along with control over fishing, agriculture, energy, trade and aid, it's a bit of an Orwellian inversion to say that we would have less sovereignty. Their whole argument hinges on denying the existence of the regulatory universe over and above the EU where the EU gets its own rules and standards from.

But their message is clear - the EEA option is the one route that takes the sting out of the scare stories. What it puzzling about these two though is their assumption that the UK has a deathwish. They assert that "It is more likely that the UK would exit the EU’s orbit entirely and trade under World Trade Organisation rules. Britain would be freed from having to comply with EU regulations. But it would face the EU’s Common External Tariff and would not be able to stop ‘behind the border’ protectionism, especially that directed at its services (which now make up more than 40 per cent of British exports)".

I don't take John Springford or Simon Tilford for fools. They know the deficiencies of the WTO option as well as many leavers do. WTO rules don't even begin to address replacing our relationship with the EU. Thus I take this analysis as a wholly dishonest one. I would go one further in suggesting that such a boneheaded move on the part of the UK government is actually entirely implausible. The chaos at ports and airports it would create would have Europe wide ramifications - and in light of this, the EU would use its position to to leverage against such an eventuality. 

They are correct in their first assessment. It's the EEA or nothing. The science is settled as they say. This then advances the debate further. We at least have a common ground from which to have a grown up debate. They would argue that the EEA option is entirely suboptimal. In that I would not disagree. It is a not a satisfactory conclusion and does not begin to present a solution. But then neither does the EU. So we've not lost anything if as they say, the EEA is the status quo option. 

What it does mean is that the UK has the necessary powers and agility to address the many complaints we have over the following years and months. It is not the destination. It is the first step in a long road. In that, the rhetoric, if not the detail, of Michael Gove is entirely valid. It is a liberation - just not the overnight revolution the more delusional Brexiteers are hoping for.

In this, I don't see it as John Springford or Simon Tilford do. They say this is the EU playing hardball. I don't think so. The EEA is an entirely satisfactory, amicable deal from which to start the uncoupling process. This is what should be central to the debate, and how we then go forth in reforming our European relationships free of EU political integration.

Sadly, because of the ineptitude of Dominic Cummings, the debate will not progress. It will be a deadlock of ego, obstinacy and ignorance versus the profound dishonesty of the Europhiles. Only if Leavers can somehow break through the noise created by Vote Leave do we have a chance at winning.

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