By openly slandering the EFTA/EEA “Norway Option” for achieving Brexit in the event of a Leave vote, the Remain campaign and their allies in the media show that they are terrified of this sensible approach
The Guardian is, of course, desperate for Britain to remain in the European Union. The vast majority of those who read or write for the paper simply cannot conceive why tiny, pathetic, insignificant Britain would want to walk away from an EU which is basically all about puppies, daisies, hand-holding, Saving The Earth and “co-operation”.
As such, the Guardian is desperate to trash any and all Brexit plans which have a whiff of viability and sense about them – and now they are gunning for the interim EFTA/EEA or “Norway” option, just as it starts to be seized upon by an increasing number of influencers and ordinary people tired by the amateur, haphazard campaigning of Vote Leave.
The Guardian’s strategy – to slander the interim EFTA/EEA option as some kind of betrayal of democracy, and to lump it together with other parliamentary tricks MPs might choose to spitefully play in the event of a Leave vote.
The article begins portentously:
Pro-European MPs and some government sources believe it may be possible to use the Commons to mount a guerilla campaign to minimise the impact of a referendum vote to quit the European Union – or even to reverse the decision if the negotiations with the EU on the UK’s exit terms produce a disastrous deal.
The government is not willing to discuss its reaction in the event of a vote to leave since its sole goal at this stage in the campaign is to emphasise the risk of such a vote by saying that the decision would be irreversible and would likely be met with a brutal response from Britain’s European partners, primarily the French.
But privately ministers have pointed out there is a large cross-party Commons majority for the UK’s continued membership of the EU, and it could be deployed once the hugely complex, detailed and contentious legislation necessary to leave the EU started to pass through parliament.
All of which would be shocking if the Guardian had actually uncovered evidence of a plot by MPs to nullify or ignore the result of the referendum. But this isn’t what they mean at all. What they mean is the following:
The first target is likely to be whether the UK could remain in the single market, while leaving the EU – so joining the European Economic Area, of which the non-EU countries Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland are currently members. The single market guarantees the free movement of people, goods and services inside the EU.
The Guardian is trying to portray an eminently sensible – in fact, by far the most sensible – plan to leave the political construct called the European Union as some kind of grotesque subversion of the people’s will – which is pretty rich in itself, considering the contempt bordering on hatred felt by most Guardianistas toward those sympathetic to Brexit.
But let’s remind ourselves of the actual question on the ballot paper on 23 June:
That’s right – there is nothing on the paper whatsoever about the European Economic Area or “single market”. A vote to leave the EU is a vote for Britain to do exactly that – to leave an explicitly political, ever-tightening union of European countries all embarked on a journey to one day become a common state (as the EU’s founders and current leaders happily admit).
Many people are rightly now coming to the conclusion that the best way to achieve Brexit with the minimum of political and economic disruption is to exit to an “off the shelf” interim solution which already exists in the form of the EFTA/EEA membership enjoyed by Norway. This is why David Cameron has suddenly started talking about “a vote to leave the single market” over the past few days – it is a tacit admission that if we vote to leave the EU but remain in the EEA, every single one of the Remain campaign’s arguments are instantly negated.
Hence the ardently Remain-supporting Guardian’s desire to do everything possible to slander the interim EFTA/EEA option, painting it as some kind of unconscionable scam when in fact it is an utterly pragmatic and realistic way of leaving the European Union while completely avoiding all of the apocalyptic economic scenarios which the Remain camp love to throw around.
And now, other newspapers are joining in. From the Times’ daily Red Box email briefing:
The Times splashes on warnings that pro-Europe MPs will fight a rearguard battle to stop Britain leaving the single market even after a Brexit vote. With fewer than 200 of the 650 MPs in parliament in favour of leaving the EU, a series of votes could be staged to put pressure on the government to keep Britain inside the single market.
Undemocratic? Of course. Plausible? Absolutely.
Except, as we have seen, it is not “undemocratic” at all. The British people are being asked whether or not they wish to leave the European Union. By gosh, we spent long enough obsessing over the wording of the question. And Brexit to a position where we continue to maintain our access to the single market in the short to medium term while planning more beneficial arrangements for the future is well within the scope of a Leave vote.
It is a surprise to see the Times engaged in the same grubby dark arts as the Guardian in this case. And even more surprising to see the Daily Mail follow suit:
Pro-Remain MPs are plotting to ignore the will of the people by voting to keep Britain in the single market – even if the referendum results in a Brexit victory.
This would mean continued freedom of movement and would ignore public concern about mass migration.
Anti-Brexit MPs on all benches – Tory, Labour, Lib Dem and SNP – could use their overwhelming majority in the Commons to force a Norway-style relationship with the EU.
Out campaigners warned last night that such a move would spark a ‘constitutional crisis’ as it would counter the spirit of a pro-Brexit referendum.
But MPs on the Remain side said such a move – dubbed guerrilla tactics by one source – would be justified because the Leave side have not set out the nature of Britain’s trading relationship with the EU if we left.
Again, we see this short-termist, Brexit-as-an-event rather than the more realistic Brexit-as-a-process viewpoint needlessly closing the mind of the Daily Mail to an eminently pragmatic option.
Certainly immigration is a key issue in the debate – and indeed as a non-EU EEA country, Britain would have a more effective emergency brake than that secured by David Cameron in his pathetic renegotiation. But more importantly, once safely and securely outside of the EU’s political union, Britain could begin planning, negotiating and building support for a better longer-term solution. And we would have our democracy back, to boot.
The “out campaigners” mentioned by the Daily Mail as calling the Norway Option the catalyst for a constitutional crisis are no doubt the same Vote Leave luvvies and insiders who made the calamitous, strategic error of going into the referendum campaign without a Brexit plan of their own, drawing a huge amount of damaging fire from the Remain campaign in the process. They are clearly desperate to slander and diminish any plan which is not cooked up in their own laboratory, perhaps under the auspices of their resident mad scientist Patrick Minford.
The Guardian article continues, quoting Sam Bowman of the ASI:
Sam Bowman, the executive director of the rightwing thinktank the Adam Smith Institute, which has advocated the UK leaving the EU in stages, welcomed the possible intervention in the Commons.. He said: “This is a referendum on EU membership, not the single market, and MPs would be right to keep us in the single market if we vote to leave the EU. Keeping Britain in the single market would take the main economic risks out of leaving the EU, avoiding the doomsday scenarios outlined by the Treasury and others.
“The EEA option outlined in a recent Adam Smith Institute report would give the UK economic security while allowing it to leave the EU. In many respects it gives us the best of both worlds – indeed the remain side has emphasised little else of value about the EU during the campaign apart from the single market.
“The EU is not a prison, but the remain camp risks portraying it as such. It is possible to leave without risking serious economic harm, and staying in the single market as a step towards a long-term settlement would give the UK that safe route out.”
While it is heartening to see the Guardian suddenly discover Roland Smith’s paper “The Liberal Case for Leave” (and the comprehensive Flexcit plan on which it is based), it is entirely unsurprising that they choose to portray it in a negative light, choosing to lump it together with what they accuse of being undemocratic ways of de facto remaining in the EU.
Some of the other acts of democratic and national self-sabotage mentioned by the Guardian as being mooted by government and MPs are indeed more concerning:
David Cameron has said in the event of a vote to leave, he would immediately and formally notify the EU of its intention to quit under article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, kickstarting a two-year negotiation that could only be extended beyond the two years by a unanimous vote of the EU member states.
But lawyers advising the expert UK parliamentary committees dealing with Europe say there is no legal obligation to notify the EU immediately.
Michael Gove, the justice secretary and prominent leave campaigner, said: “Logically, in the days after a vote to leave, the prime minister would discuss the way ahead with the cabinet and consult parliament before taking any significant step.”
He added: “It would not be in any nation’s interest artificially to accelerate the process and no responsible government would hit the start button on a two-year legal process without preparing appropriately. Nor would it be in anyone’s interest to hurry parliamentary processes. We can set the pace.”
There is no need to push the button on Article 50 the day after the referendum in the event of a Leave vote. In fact, such a decision would be a spiteful and churlish act committed by an irresponsible government willing to damage the long-term interest of the country as “pay back” to the people for having disregarded their advice to vote Remain.
Similarly with the idea of a counter-offer from the EU followed by a second referendum in the event of a Leave vote, raising the possibility that Britain might end up in a kind of democratic limbo, having voted to leave the EU but rejected the subsequent terms of departure.
Messing around with either the invocation of Article 50 or the sneaky addition of a second referendum would indeed be undemocratic, or at least a wild act of constitutional vandalism. Adopting the only comprehensive Brexit plan in existence – and as we learned on Newsnight yesterday evening, the plan being actively considered by civil servants, who must obey the laws of reality, not partisan allegiance – does not fall into this category.
Failing to give the UKIP-element of the Leave campaign everything they want wrapped up with a pretty bow on 24 June is not evidence of some sinister plot or an attempt to subvert a democratically made decision to leave the EU. On the contrary, pursuing the Norway Option is the responsible way forward, the best means of securing precisely what the British people voted for – independence from the Brussels political union, and the freedom to make all subsequent decisions democratically for ourselves, including on immigration (within the constraints of realpolitik).
(And for newspapers which usually treat Brexit supporters with dripping contempt verging on hatred to suddenly care whether the Norway Option goes against the “spirit” of a Brexit vote – it doesn’t – is disingenuous at best. A child could see through their attempt at emotional manipulation.)
So we should beware the motivations of those campaigners and newspapers who suggest otherwise. In seeking to tarnish the only comprehensive Brexit plan in existence (Flexcit / the Norway Option) such people clearly have an agenda – once which brings together unlikely allies like the Times and the Guardian, and which sees the Daily Mail also taking up arms for different reasons.
Thinking Brexiteers whose first priority is extricating Britain from the common European state being slowly but relentlessly assembled in Brussels should ask themselves why so many people – from the prime minister on downwards – are suddenly so desperate to conflate the single market with the European Union, and to trash the Norway Option.
Hint: it is because without being able to threaten all manner of apocalyptic scenarios in the event of Britain leaving the single market, the entire Remain campaign – in all its negative, pessimistic, fearmongering glory – utterly falls apart.
These people are desperate to halt the growing public awareness that it is possible to disengage from political and judicial union in a manner that is reasonable, non-hostile, pragmatic and politically feasible without the risk of economic disruption.
Because that might mean actually leaving the EU!
This post was originally published by the author 7 June 2016