Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Efta is the best way to ditch our EU political baggage

The only consistent view of mine throughout is that Britain should take up a leading role within Efta and retain the EEA agreement - and that the so-called WTO option is a really bad idea.

I am on record as saying the WTO option would be an unmitigated disaster - and not only that, we would end up grovelling back to Brussels, where to reopen talks we would pay a high price and end up a vassal state. So it then comes down to an estimation of whether you think that deal would be worse than Mrs May's deal. To me it doesn't feel like there's much in it either way so the gamble of no deal may open up alternative and unanticipated avenues. Perhaps even a chance to push for Efta.

Right now it's all beginning to feel a little futile. The ultras are resurrecting their dismal "world trade deal nonsense" and all the while Kinnock and Boles are making a terrible job of pushing the EEA option, making avoidable errors and making it even harder to sell. Meanwhile there is the morass of politics adding its ignorance to the mountain that already exists. Just when you think things are starting to take shape it all falls apart again and the debate is back to the beginning with nothing learned by anyone.

The one constant is this is the ever more irritating remain initiatives, all of which come to nothing, wasting their time and ours. The latest wheeze is another round of economic projections telling us that we will all be poorer. It didn't work in 2016 and it doesn't work now. It's so eye-wateringly tedious.

According to Sky News, 51% of us now think staying in the EU would be best for the economy. This statistic on its own is meaningless. I have no doubt that in the short to medium term remaining is better for the economy - but of course, this is not an economic proposition and it never has been. This is, though the swansong of the remain effort. They calculate that as Brexit ennui sweeps the nation, coupled with a dismal deal, we might simply cave in and grudgingly resign ourselves to EU dominion. 

They might actually be right. If they got a re-run of the referendum we could see a swing to remain but they'd win it by a similarly pitiful margin. Certainly not by enough to say that the EU was a genuinely legitimate government. The issue would remain an open question. Long term investment would think twice about the UK as a destination because Brexit is a political artefact that won't go away. 

Course, there it that small problem that there isn't going to be another referendum so there's really not much more to be said about that. If anything, the timing of these new economic forecasts is simply to drum up support for Theresa May's deal. Strategically it's a bum idea because it merely reinforces the remainer view that we should remain and they think that if the deal doesn't pass then there's a shot at a referendum. Meanwhile the leavers think that voting down the deal brings us closer to their holy grail of no deal. 

If by some miracle the deal does scrape through parliament (which I don't discount), the essential message from Parliament is  that they have prioritised GDP over and above the desire to "take back control". And this is the fundamental dysfunction in our politics. The managerial mindset runs deep and their horizons stop at Brussels. As to what happens if the deal doesn't pass, Christ alone knows. There is, therefore, only one thing left to do - and that is to keep making the case for a deliverable, intelligent, forward thinking Brexit. 

Even if May's deal does pass there is still every point in pushing forward the Efta case which then becomes stronger as it is the only starting point to ensure that the ball and chain backstop is ever activated. We must keep in mind that the EU quite keen on the idea of activating it because it means it can trade access to our markets without us having a veto. Efta is our best defence against that. 

Still, though we will have the remainer foot-draggers, slave to EU dogma, but in every respect an Efta future is better for the UK than EU membership. As much as it preserves much of the economic cooperation with the EU, it's a a new beginning and a chance to develop Efta into something more agile, more democratic and something that we can enthusiastically embrace rather than being depressingly resigned to it. 

The one reason the remainers lose is because they are unable to offer us any kind of vision. They have to keep the debate in the confines of economics because the vision on offer is the same old stagnant federalism - which has ramped up ever since the UK announced its departure. The mask has slipped. Even though there may be a small majority from propping up a decaying status quo, it's only a very small minority of flag-waving euro zealots who actually embrace Europe's big idea.

Most who voted to leave realised they were voting for something seismic. Few can have been unaware that the 2016 vote was for a major shift of direction. All of the warnings were heard. We heard the same projectstions as now and still voted to take the risk. I am certainly not alone in believing that Brexit will cause short to medium term economic pain but always believed the position was recoverable. 

If we look at it strictly in terms of temporary costs then yes, it's a poor decision, but it really depends on the outcome. I take the view that if the UK has a new destiny, a reinvigorated politics and is free from the majority of EU rules so as to innovate in policy then, in the grand scheme of things, it is a worthy investment. We'll have resolved a decades long dispute and found a home more befitting the UK.

If in the case of Efta EEA we maintain the economic cooperation and access to services markets, the economic argument for EU membership melts away meaning the Europhiles would have to sell us on the federalist dream - which isn't going to happen. It's a rotten idea and it always was. This is why the remainers are still spreading poison about the Efta option. They know that if we can leave and we can do so while maintaining our economic standing then their crusade is stone dead. This is also why they want a customs union. If they can hobble Britain then they think we'll beg to rejoin.

For all that we have heard about the Brexit extremists (and yes the ERG are extremists) it never occurs to them that their whole ethos; to transfer ever more sovereignty to remote and corporate domain, eroding our domestic democracy with a view to abolishing all the powers than meaningfully make us a nation, that they too are extremists. So much so that they will use any means at their disposal to overturn the 2016 vote. If they could have done it through the courts they would have by now. Ideally any new settlement should leave both sets of zealots out in the cold. Even combined they are the minority.

I am told that the Efta option is dead, but it's one that keeps rising to the surface because to this day it's the only plan that actually covers all the bases while delivering Brexit. Being that the game isn't over yet, there is every point in pushing for it. It remains the right answer. This ain't over until it's over. 

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