Despite having had 20-25 years to develop and propose a clear Brexit strategy which defines an achievable relationship with the EU that advances the UK’s national interests, the Leave campaign has comprehensively failed to present a detailed BrExit roadmap laying out the preferred negotiable and achievable plan from the options available. Any plan is, of course, highly dependent on what the EU and its remaining members wish to agree to, but Leave’s answer range unconvincingly from “we don’t know” to “they’ll give us everything we want”.
The Flexcit roadmap (itself laying out a long, complex, risky process with uncertain outcome) has been comprehensively repudiated by the main Brexit leaders (Lawson, Gove, Johnson, IDS, Farage etc) whose strategy (when they can be pinned down) seems to be a variant of the WTO rules. Nonetheless the “Flexcit” advocates remain hopeful that the government and parliament after a Brexit vote will act in the national interest and agree something like the EEA membership option. The problem with this, is that for the past 50 years parliament has agreed that the national interest is best served by being in the EEC/EU and the reason we are having a referendum is because enough of the people have lobbied to overrule parliament’s sovereignty on this matter. Hence, a Brexit approach that does not meet the requirements of those who voted for Brexit, even if parliament believes that’s in the national interest, will not settle the question for which we are holding the referendum. EEA membership might achieve the legalistic definition of “Leave” as being outside the EU proper, but will fail to meet the implied mandate in why people are voting Leave.
Instead, we should examine the key issues that have persuaded Britons to vote for Brexit. In summary these are:
- Control immigration from the EU [by some points based system], removing the right of freedom of movement from EU citizens to live and work in the UK and the rights of UK citizens to live, work, retire anywhere in the EU.
- Restore sovereignty: ensuring that only laws enacted by the UK parliament are applicable in the UK.
- Save money: spending the [untrue] £350m/week EU contribution on the NHS. Despite being told this is untrue, enough voters will have been persuaded that this money is real and will be ploughed into the NHS (with farmers, regions, scientists etc losing all the money they used to get from the EU).
Any settlement that does not achieve all these aims must be assumed as failing to observe the mandate from the British people. Any settlement that does include them automatically precludes any arrangement based on the EEA or (current) Swiss models.
In wanting these things, the British people will have decided explicitly to ignore the advice and projections from many organisations, countries, world leaders etc or have accepted the risks that these groups have articulated:
- the UK Treasury and Bank of England reports on the impact of Brexit
- reports from bodies such as the IFS, IMF, OECD, WTO and many other reputable organisations on the likely economic impact of Brexit
- Reports from the vast majority of economists
- Views of the CBI, SMMT, exporters, business consortia, entrepreneurs, and the majority of business leaders
- Arguments from world leaders such as Barack Obama, the rest of the G7, and the prime ministers of India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many other commonwealth countries on both economic arguments and impacts on Britain’s global influence. Apparently, somehow, our abysmal failure to influence the EU manages to influence all these other leaders of sovereign states to continue to back EU membership.
- The views of most military and national security leaders (past and present) that EU membership is better for national security.
- The views of NATO leaders that Britain’s membership of the EU strengthens NATO and Britain’s influence.
- Statements by EU leaders that Britain cannot expect to maintain Single Market access without accepting Freedom of movement and other requirements that EEA members and Switzerland must agree to. The alternative, despite Brexit rhetoric, is not a “trade embargo”.
- Risks to the breakup of the UK with demands from Scotland for another independence referendum, Northern Ireland and impact to the peace settlement there, Gibraltar etc
Whether voters disregard these opinions as “Project Fear” is besides the point. They have decided they know better and cannot say after Brexit and finding these predictions come true “but nobody told us”. The electorate have been told and chosen to ignore the advice and to accept the risks. Some (including Arron Banks) believe that economic loss is worth it to achieve the key three goals desired by Brexiters. Moreover, Brexit negotiations will be undertaken with an EU whose members will not want to make it easy for the UK.
Hence, the UK government negotiating Brexit will be acting against its mandate from the people if it attempts to mitigate these risks and in doing so compromise the three Brexit goals listed above. Those goals must take precedence over mitigation of economic impact and on our influence in the world. After all the Brexit leaders have assured the electorate that we are the “fifth biggest economy in the world” so have nothing to fear from Brexit.
Surely the British public who voted for Brexit under the premise that it would save money, restrict EU immigration and restore sovereignty would be rightly outraged if the Brexit agreement with the EU was a variant of the EEA membership that maintained Freedom of Movement, a contribution to the EU budget, and supremacy of EU law in any areas.
Whilst I, as a committed remain advocate, should prefer the EEA as the next best option to full EU membership, I would have to respect the mandate from the British people requiring something else. Despite being warned that they should be careful what they wish for, the British people will have to accept it even if, in the end, they don’t like it and wish they had listened to the warnings. So, if you wish to retain full Single Market access and are unwilling to accept the economic risk of Brexit, the only safe vote is to Remain. If the three issues above are more important and you wish to take the risk to the economy and security, by all means vote Leave. Just don’t complain afterwards and expect me and millions of others to say “we told you so”!
My wife and children are eligible for Irish passports so should be able to maintain EU FoM benefits and could move to Ireland (and pay my taxes there). Or maybe we’ll move to Scotland in time for a second independence referendum.