LeaveHQ, 19/11/2015  

Since we are ruminating on strategy this week we thought maybe it's worth reiterating a few basic realities. Ultimately this battle is won or lost at the very top of the debate. There is a very small class of people who actually engage in politics at the level we are talking about. Those people are the opinion formers. Opinions trickle down from them. If our side does not have intellectual credibility that message will get out fast. 

Consequently, to stay in the game, our case has to be watertight. We do not have the luxury of making suppositions. The public will not take a gamble. We have to be able to offer guarantees. If we settle on a solution that is based hoping for the best then we cannot win. If we settle on a solution that makes erroneous assumptions we cannot win. If the opposition say "if we leave the EU, the EU will..." our answer has to be "No it will not, because here is the law that says it can't" - and the EU will not break it's own laws. 

The only assumption we make is that neither party in the negotiations has a deathwish. A recession for us is a recession for them. Thus it is in the interests of both sides to secure an orderly and smooth exit.

When our civil servants are told "make this happen" after the referendum, they will look at all the risks and obstacles and they will say the most risk free option is to go EEA/Efta (Norway) because that is the existing framework that most resembles full membership without having to open up a whole raft of new negotiations that may take much longer than the allotted two years.

So in essence, we choose the Norway option because it is an article of fact and the most likely answer to difficult questions that our own officials would face. We assume that they will be risk averse to the maximum in executing their task. They would not choose an avenue where there are unanswered questions that would require not only negotiation with the EU but also third party entities and non-EU countries.

So it is effectively Norway or no way. The only fallback position is a free trade agreement and mutual recognition agreement modelled on the Australian relationship. Again, we'd be looking at an easily replicated existing framework. All parties concerned will be looking to minimise impact on trade. 

At the very suggestion of risks being taken and the markets go haywire and the whole EU and Britain takes a hit. Nobody wants that and every step will be taken to ensure that does not happen. If there is any grandstanding at all, it will be for domestic consumption, but in reality, the negotiations will be very straight, very sombre and mature just to get it out of the way and back to business as usual. 

To promote any option other than what is politically plausible and realistic is to introduce risk into the Brexit question. If we introduce risk then we introduce assumption. Opinion formers will not green light that and they will say that we do not have a tangible case. 

We have to put up our model and let them throw rocks at it to see if it survives. The Norway model is the only one that is going to come out in tact. They will point out the inherent weaknesses of the option. Rather than arguing the toss, we surprise them and agree with their evaluations and that it is sub-optimal, but then we have all the weapons necessary to show that while there are peripheral costs, there are much greater opportunities.

Those opportunities are greater global engagement, more trading agility by adopting a different model of trade to big bang bundled deals, and then for domestic consumption we present a set of democratic reforms that could not happen while we are in the EU. 

We lose hands down if our answers are vague and pie in the sky. We do not have to convince opinion formers to switch sides. All we have to do is not lose the debate hands down and so that those watching the debate will just report what our case is, rather than the fact we lost the argument and our case is crapola. That is what happened to Ukip, that is why confidence collapse in them and that is why they are not coming back from their election defeat any time soon, or at all by the way it looks. 

Any other case we present may well be achievable, but we can't put timescales on it nor are we able to offer reassurances. Any estimation as to whether those alternatives can happen comes down to the faith the public have that we could pull it off. Land of hope and glory "we can do it" optimistic patriotism doesn't sell because it isn't British. We're miserable. 

If we say "We're not going to get everything we want and we will have to make a few compromises in the short to mid term, and it'll take a while for anybody to notice the difference" - that's going to win, because it's an honest appraisal that doesn't sound like bullshit. While the public may be under informed, they have a nose for politicians pushing bullshit - and they don't like them. 

We then show that we are pragmatic, reasonable and straight up with voters. They will contrast that we an establishment making all kinds of predictions of doom and hyperventilating. We then have the moral high ground by saying it ain't gonna make much difference for the time being, and there's not much to panic over and these people are being irrational. The more reasonable we sound, the better our chances. The Norway option is the essence of compromise, pragmatism, honesty and realism. That has a good chance. Nothing else does.

If after two years our side has been telling everyone that there will be a bonfire of regulations, we'll have a grand extra in our pockets and guards at every border point, we cannot make that pragmatic and progressive case convincingly, we'll have contradicted ourselves and undermined our own argument. Keep it in the realms of the believable and the technically achievable and we need not comprehensively lose the argument. If you are not willing to concede on hard lines like freedom of movement for the time being, then get used to freedom of movement because we'll be staying in the EU. Forever. 

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