Tuesday, 7 June 2016

A journey of a thousand miles...

Hardcore Brexiters need to learn a little patience. In their rush to get to the end, whatever that is precisely, they risk tripping over and falling flat on their face. Polls suggest that Leave could possibly win, although most people still think it quite unlikely. Yet any discussion of what a post-Leave process might look like is attacked as if carion by starving hyenas. Witness the Leave campaign's distancing from Patrick Minford's unilateral free trade option, for example.

Those who matter have started to suggest that after a Leave vote a majority of MPs could resist the UK's departure from the single market. Pure-blood exiteers jump on that as a sign of betrayal of the people's [assumed] choice, but it is anything but. For the referendum poses an interesting constitutional question in the event of a Leave vote: what comes next? The ballot paper is carefully designed to give no further information beyond In or Out of the EU.

A decision to Leave the EU generally presumes that Parliament will "take back control", to repeat a mantra. But a sovereign Parliament is free to delegate its powers, as it does already. Surely Parliament will respect the referendum result, but the referendum does not give any further instruction to our legislators and executive. A vote to quit the EU does not imply that a majority of voters want to leave the single market, however much a win for Leave may or may not be based on anti-immigration rhetoric. (It is not even clear that the some of the leading faces of the Leave campaign are interested in a hard stop on immigration: as Will Hague points out, a points-based system need not result in any particular number of newcomers. Jeremy Warner also makes some good points about visas, if you have the inclination to read his recent Telegeaph article.) If Parliament genuinely cared about immigration, it could halve the level immediately by blocking all non-EU arrivals... Personally I suspect that  immigration is an extremely important issue to a relatively tiny number of voters; the smooth functioning of the day-to-day economy trumps all.

Parliament will also be aware of the possible short-term economic consequences of a hard exit. Indeed, Remain have campaigned mercilessly on this topic. No party will want to go into the next election with a backdrop of a crashed economy brought about by a bodged withdrawal which they oversaw. And no party will get off scott-free in this "balanced" Parliament.

Which is why many sensible people have long supported EFTA/EEA membership - sometimes referred to as a Norwegian model - as the first step out of the EU. EEA membership largely gives cheap access to the single market, without the CAP and fisheries nonsenses, but crucially allows members to sit outside the customs union: free to negotiate trade deals with non-EEA countries. It doesn't solve all of the sovereignty issues because the single market rules must be enacted by member countries, but it does limit the areas in which the common rules apply. It does require free movement to continue within the EEA, but I suspect it would not require the UK to be part of the relocation of refugees schemes (I am happy to be corrected on this by anyone who knows more about it).

The point is that a step from EU to EEA could be very smooth and need not cause a hard stop in our trading relations with the other 27 or the rest of the world. Effectively it buys time and allows for a gradual disengagement - if that is what people vote for in subsequent  general elections - or a semi-permanent semi-detached relationship with our European friends. We do like a semi-detached here in Britain, don't we?

A possible smooth transition to something other than our current EU membership could also attract support from people who, in the PM's words, are "grumpy" about the EU but do not pine for a fortress Britain either. Liberal internationalists, for example, to borrow Michael Gove's expression.

In other words, the EEA option could be just the sort of messy compromise that moderates and centrists have said they want. In but Out, Out but Near, free-trading but semi-detached, call it what you like. And once the Rubicon of actually voting to Leave has been crossed, then Parliament and elections to it can determine where we go next. Nice and slowly, in the British way. No fruitcakery required.


Bill Quango MP said...

Sounds good. If the EU would permit it.

Electro-Kevin said...

Yes. If the EU would permit it.

The Treaty of Rome still applies and we know what that says.

Last year's Yougov poll shows people's top three issues that cause them most concern (economy, health, immigration) on level pegging.

Yes. The Leave side could blow it.

Good to have you back.

BlokeInBrum said...

Just watching Cameron on ITV.
I've always had mixed feeling about him;
sometimes I think he's a decent guy doing the best he can in difficult circumstances,
other times (like now!) I think he's a duplicitous little sh*t, and proper slippy with it.
I was just reading on the der Spiegel website about how he asked Merkel and the EU Comission to butt out of the Referendum, as any interference by them would have only negative effects on the Remain Campaign.
Apparently there's a whole raft of EU regulations (ie. the infamous low powered toaster) waiting in the wings, quietly waiting to be imposed on us after the Referendum is over.
Hard to gauge the audiences inclination, clearly a couple of plants trying to spike Farage, but reassuringly quite a few sceptics in there too.
Not long to go now!

Electro-Kevin said...

Actually - I think Farage DID just blow it (the ITV debate)

He had to convince Remainers that there was a positive life outside the EU and I don't think he did that. He allowed himself to get bogged down by predictable questions about racism - to which there were very easy answers.

I wish it could have been Gove instead.

BE said...

EK, apparently Cameron would not go up against a Leave rep, only wanted Farage. Confident?!

Farage made the mistake of a) saying there was more to life than money (basically admitting that there may be an economic hit) and b) wearing a suit that did not fit, making him look a bit weird.

Cameron carefully did not answer any of the questions.

Anonymous said...

Brexit is nothing more than the unelected and unelectable UKIP supporters trying to seize parliament on one single racist issue. And you expect real parliamentarians not to fight back.

Blue Eyes said...

...and yet it turns out that quite a few people disagree with most MPs on this single issue, if polls are to be believed.

Jan said...

I can't watch any more about the vote....I keep returning to what it was we voted for all those years ago. It was purely to assist trading and nothing whatever about a political or monetary union. I think we'd all be happy to return to that position.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Farage. There is more to life than money but you only realise that when you have so much it becomes meaningless.

Perhaps he is not interested in politics at all, but in creating an environment when the currency traders (and his commodity broker mates) can make a killing.

Now where is my tin foil hat.

John Dub said...

You're a moron.

Electro-Kevin said...

Anon @ 5.04

"Brexit is nothing more than the unelected and unelectable UKIP supporters trying to seize parliament on one single racist issue. And you expect real parliamentarians not to fight back."

I was told "You wouldn't mind if it was white British people breeding and causing this increase in population"

I said "But we chose not to breed as the pressure on resources would make us poorer. And now our leaders are increasing our population and making us poorer anyway !"

It's about numbers, Anon. Numbers. Numbers that we can no longer choose for ourselves.

This issue has highlighted more than any other the power of the EU over us.

You're not a democrat. You crush debate with a dishonest allegation. In fact you and the EU are well suited so I can see why you might defend it.

Electro-Kevin said...

BE - I think Cameron may have pulled it off. Farage is yesterday's man and reminded young people of Brexit's (alleged) toxicity whereas an amiable and positive representative was needed in this case.

All Farage does is strengthen the resolve of the Leavers but does nothing to win over waverers.