18 July 2017

What are the essential ingredients for Brexit?


Brexit was always going to mean a bit of give and take. The process of negotiating our departure from the European Union needs flexibility on both sides.

So where should the UK be willing to make concessions, and where does Brexit mean sticking to our guns?

Plainly some of the hard-line Remainers’ suggestions about what needs to happen are incompatible with Brexit – which, one rather suspects, is exactly the reason the Remaniacs keep making them.

It would be impossible to claim to have left the European Union and still remain a member of either the Single Market or Customs Union. As long as you are in either, you cannot pursue your own independent trade policy. Indeed, if we remained a member of the Single Market, vast swathes of economic life – and much else – in our country would continue to be subject to rules made in Brussels. Leave the Single Market and you only need to comply with Single Market rules if selling into the Single Market.

It would be dishonest and deceitful to claim to have left the EU, but remain in the Single Market or Customs Union. And millions of voters would, quite rightly, see it as a political sleight of hand, a three-card trick played on them by the political establishment.

Nor can the UK credibly remain within Euratom. That’s not because there isn’t something eminently sensible about cooperating with our neighbours over nuclear issues. There is – and we need to find post-Brexit ways of doing so. But the reality is that Euratom is not just another one of those EU agencies. It happens to be a founding pillar on which the architecture of the EU is built. If you leave the EU, you have to leave Euratom.

It’s a similar situation with the European Court of Justice. Leaving the EU means that the ECJ can no longer hold jurisdiction in the UK. This isn’t really a matter of interpretation or opinion, but a straight forward legal fact.

If the UK accepts that the ECJ holds jurisdiction over us, we are not a self-governing state. Which is perhaps why those who tell us ECJ adjudication is essential insist on it being so. They understand the implications and are setting out to deceive.

If they were honest, they would accept that it is perfectly possible to have in place all manner of agreements with the EU, without being subject to the ECJ. But they don’t.

What about EFTA, the European Free Trade Area? Personally, I’d be delighted if the UK, after Brexit, was to be a member of EFTA. And to remain in EFTA for the foreseeable future. Let’s cheerfully concede that. Why? For the same reason I would like to see Britain joining NAFTA, the North American Free Trade group. EFTA and NAFTA allow free trade. They are not about imposing common standards.

And that is precisely why I doubt that post-Brexit Britain can credibly be a member of the European Economic Area. The EEA, unlike EFTA, is all about imposing common standards.

Leave the EU, but join the EEA, and the UK’s relationship with the EU would be like Norway’s. Still vastly preferable to what we have today, it would mean having to comply with rules and regulations we had no part in drafting.

Those who suggest that we should have a Norway-type relationship with the EU on a transitional basis ought to remember: Norway was only supposed to have the relationship it has with the EU on a temporary basis. Two decades later, it is still in a sort of Euro-limbo.

There is nothing wrong with transitional arrangements, so long as there is a clear time limit in place at the outset.

What about immigration and the free movement of people? Or the so-called Brexit bill? If you listen to the pundits, these are areas of great contention, where the two sides are supposed to be at loggerheads.

Nonsense. It is already possible to see the outline of an agreement; free movement of people – the automatic right that every EU national has to settle – will end. But that does not mean that we cannot have the free movement of labour.

As for the Brexit bill, there will be some residual costs that the other EU member states might try to recoup. We are, of course, under no obligation to pay the EU anything after we are out. But we could act in good faith if such good faith was reciprocated. Rather than put us in a weak position, the issue of money gives us a strong negotiating hand.

If you stop to think about it, there are all sorts of agreements that we could strike with the EU on all sorts of areas; there are deals to be done on intelligence sharing and security. And the environment. Our universities benefit from the Erasmus programme and Horizon 2020.If the Remainiac rump was really interested in ensuring the maximum amount of continued cooperation with the EU after we have left, you might expect them to be making these sort of points. But they aren’t. Nick Clegg and Tony Blair are in the business of advocating ideas that would render Brexit meaningless.

But then again, the real negotiations are not between the likes of Nick Clegg and the rest of us. Any agreement will be brokered between the UK government and the EU. Our own Remainiac fringe might advocate positions intended to try to try to make a mess of Brexit. But the government isn’t negotiating with them. Which is precisely why I’m optimistic that we will strike a good deal.

Douglas Carswell was MP for Clacton from 2005 to 2017