LeaveHQ, 07/06/2016  

One of the most crucial elements of The Market Solution (read pamphlet version here) 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 independence 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.


Back in April John Springford and Simon Tilford wrote an article in The Telegraph which concluded that the EFTA/EEA route will be the only option on the table; the EU will “play hardball” and only agree to the UK stepping out to the EEA, otherwise it’ll be “no deal”:

“EU leaders will force a Brexiting prime minister to choose between two options: membership of the European Economic Area, or nothing.”


Our Deputy Editor Ben Kelly later responded in a blog post “It is the EEA or nothing” which agrees with their basic premise. As this is the only arrangement that can be achieved in the two-year Article 50 deadline and ensures business and trade continuity as well as dampening the geopolitical fallout; this will be the only offer on the table and we will have to accept it.


On the 2nd March Ben Kelly wrote a piece for the Telegraph: “Leaving the EU won’t actually change Britain much – at first anyway”, in which he argued that the fear mongering of remainers and the simplicities of leavers were based on false assumptions. I argued then as I argue now; when the real, grown up business of government and international negotiations comes into play  the aims of both Britain and the EU will be to prevent a prolonged recession and conclude a mutually beneficial arrangement as as quickly as possible.


The doomsday Brexit scenarios we are warned about would be disastrous for Britain and Europe; which is why avoiding them at all costs will be the priority. Yes, I know the government is telling you the sky will fall in, but there’s a reason why the Treasury analysis of Brexit didn’t feature the EFTA/EEA route; it’s because the government will not fulfil its own doomsday scenario:


“It will be abundantly clear that by far the most optimal way of de-risking Brexit is to rejoin the European Free Trade Agreement and trade with the EU via the European Economic Area. As we are already a contracting party to the EEA Agreement there is no serious obstacle; this is the path of least resistance. It means there would be no regulatory divergence or tariffs and it means retaining freedom of movement. Business and trade would be unaffected and Britons would still have the freedom to live and work in EEA countries. 


It is not difficult to imagine the Conservative Party cheering to the rafters of the House, uniting behind this plan that protects our economic and national security. Coming together as one they will handle our transition pragmatically and present a strong, united front for 2020.”


Any post-Brexit scenario will necessarily have to protect the economy; any leave scenario that seriously damages the economy would be a far bigger disaster for a government than the grievances of a minority of the public who refuse to accept any halfway house interim solution. Compromise and pragmatism will be an absolute necessity; the extremists of the debate will necessarily be marginalised.

Later in March The Telegraph confirmed what our sources had been telling us, that the EFTA/EEA route was the route identified by the Civil Service as the option we would take:

“It is likely the UK would adopt a model similar to Norway’s as holding position, before gravitating to a more bespoke arrangement, according to one scenario under discussion”.


Ben Kelly blogged in response to the article arguing that Brexit is the key to revitalising the country and reforming its governance, but the crucial point is that the EFTA/EEA model is a secure foundation on which we can build a new Britain.


Since then Douglas McWilliams at the Centre of Economic and Business Research has insisted that the EEA option is the most likely scenario:

“What might happen if the UK leaves? In theory it is highly uncertain but there are transitional arrangements that have already been negotiated and my best guess is that these transitional arrangements will largely determine what actually happens. I am assuming that the most likely outcome would be that the UK stays in the Single Market.”


Then our friend and colleague Roland Smith, ASI fellow and author of “The Liberal Case for Leave”, wrote a short paper “Evolution not Revolution: The Case for the EEA Option” which has gone a long way to popularising the EEA option amongst the media and influential think tanks. This provided a much needed boost for our campaign and created a whole new dimension to the debate.  Since then we have pressed the issue hard and spread the words as far and wide as we could.


In May, former British ambassador Charles Crawford appeared on Newsnight and argued that the EEA option would be the first step in the Brexit process; which was picked up on by reporter Chris Cook who noted that the EEA option is the most likely outcome:

In two important successive interventions we had Allister Heath of The Telegraph endorse the EEA option and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard endorsing Flexcit and imploring the Leave camp to realise that the “Norway option” is the most likely scenario. Here we had two high profile journalists speaking in our exact language, recycling our phrases and backing our plans. That led several other journalists, and Vote Leave personalities, such as Toby Young and Andrew Lilco to admit that their arguments were difficult to dispute. The debate was well and truly blown wide open and the EFTA/EEA model is now snowballing.

On June 4th Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform, a long time remainer, agreed that  the EEA could indeed provide a viable way out for Britain and was likely to be the only Brexit scenario to make it through the Commons. This is a point we have been making for some time.

After a vote to leave there will be a need to unify the government and to manage the transition out of the EU in a way that the whole House will accept and vote for. We have long argued that this was yet another benefit of the EEA option and one of the many reasons it was the most likely outcome. For that we were scorned but yet again we have been vindicated.

In the news this morning:

“Pro-Remain MPs are considering using their Commons majority to keep Britain inside the EU single market if there is a vote for Brexit, the BBC has learnt. The MPs fear a post-Brexit government might negotiate a limited free trade deal with the EU, which they say would damage the UK's economy. There is a pro-Remain majority in the House of Commons of 454 MPs to 147.”

So there we have it; confirmation. The priority for the House will be de-risking Brexit and that is what the EEA option offers us. It will be the only offer on the table in negotiations with the EU and the only option that will be accepted by the majority of the House. This means that just about all the economic fear mongering used to argue against leaving the EU is neutralised; we can vote to leave because the risks will be minimised and we know what the initial stage of “out” will look like.

We at The Leave Alliance always knew we’d have to adopt a different strategy to make an impact; lacking as we do the resources to launch a major campaign. We are the guerrilla fighters of this referendum; we have hammered our message home on social media, whispered in the ears of key opinion formers and ensured that our ideas infiltrated influential institutions and media outlets. We have succeeded in implanting our ideas and getting people speaking our language.

The only people standing in the way of this being fully accepted is the Vote Leave campaign and their childish fantasies of leaving the EU in an afternoon, making a clean break by tea time and wrapping up a trade deal as simply as leasing a car. It’s time for them to get real and accept reality; we will adopt the EFTA/EEA model to leave the EU in an economically secure way. We are safe to vote to leave and begin an exciting new chapter in our history from a position of security. Let’s take the first step.

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