Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The argument in brief

The short of the EEA argument is the fact that we have been an EU member for 40 years and nothing less than a fully comprehensive framework for future economic collaboration with our neighbours is a sufficient replacement. It is that simple.

Had we never been part of the single market an FTA would have been sufficient and more suitable for our needs - but we have the better part of thirty years worth of economic activity working inside EU regulatory frameworks. We need to ensure its survival.

Without having all the mechanisms of recognition and proof of conformity then frictionless trade does not happen and we lose all our preferential participation in the European market. That means a hit for everything from cosmetics through to airline spares.

The only reason you would knowingly jettison all of that economic activity is if there were a demonstrable alternative - but there isn't. Trump's trade promises are not worth the paper they are written on and a handful of FTAs with the rest of the world can't replace our EU trade.

All we will end up doing is seeking deals with those partners who already have, or are working toward, a comprehensive agreement with the EU which will lock them into harmonisation with EU rules and global standards, That means there is no economic utility in divergence.

Moreover, there is no mechanism the EU will agree to that can replicate the regulatory authorisations of the single market. Framework mutual recognition deals don't come close and wouldn't allow for unilateral divergence.

We can leave the EEA in favour of an FTA, which will grant us more regulatory autonomy but if that means reduced market access with the EU and its partners, what actual use is that? There are few demonstrable gains from regulatory arbitrage. None that I know of in trade in goods.

Furthermore, if the UK is engaged in a regulatory race to the bottom the EU will not be passive. It has several techniques to remove the advantage, not least a higher frequency of goods inspections to preserve its regulatory integrity. It can and will compete.

The only people who think there is a "free trade" future based on deregulation are the IEA, Open Europe and the ASI - and if you know your onions then you know these people are Toryboy idiots - most of whom have never had a real job.

Yes, the EEA has more obligations than I would like and encroaches on areas I am not at all happy about, but I like the alternatives a lot less because ultimately we are talking about killing jobs here and that's no good. The regions depend on Airbus, Nissan, Rolls Royce etc.

If we leave the EEA, they may not leave the UK but I can see many areas where regulatory conformity and single market authorisation is essential so they definitely will scale down UK operations and future investment will be directed to the continent. That risks the UK becoming a European trade backwater. Japan won't invest in manufacturing in the UK if there is only limited access to the single market, They have said so. I take them at their word.

As to the potential of trading with the rest of the world, I won't say that there aren't opportunities, but we are better off safeguarding the trade we have and collaborating with the EU rather than going into direct competition. If we do that then we'll lose.

What we are seeing is Africa and the Pacific getting their act together and forming their own trade regions similar to that of the EEA which means we could find ourselves in the future as the junior partner in every major trade negotiation.

And if you didn't like being told what to do by the EU, wait until it's China calling the shots. You will like that a lot less. Tory free trade dogma does not survive first contact with reality and will lead to a gutting of UK jobs followed by price gouging.

I don't like the EU, and pray for the day when it doesn't exist - but the fact is it does exist and we shall have to contend with it for as long as it does. In respect of that we need an amicable, comprehensive relationship. For those purposes, EEA Efta is the only game in town.

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