Moderate Brexit: Liberal eurosceptic fight to keep us in EEA

"Looking ahead, the Single Market and 'fortress Europe', will become far less important"
"Looking ahead, the Single Market and 'fortress Europe', will become far less important"

By Ben Kelly

The EU referendum offered us a choice between steadily integrating further into the EU or taking a different path on the outside. The majority chose the latter, but where will it lead?

Sadly, the debate is distorted by the disproportionate influence of the zealots. The "it'll be alright on the night" hard Brexit advocates who think we can simply cut and run without any major difficulties and the nasty minority of xenophobes who simply want to "pull up the drawbridge" to Europe. But however much they shout loudly from the margins, they shouldn’t be overestimated as a proportion of the nation.

The far too often binary nature of this debate helps to create a false dichotomy between a backward, isolationist Britain cut off from Europe and an "open" Britain in the EU which is inclusive and outward looking. 


In reality it's a cynical fantasy to imagine we will not be fully engaged in European and global politics and remain a liberal and tolerant country after we leave the EU.

Our economy will still be closely integrated with the European system. We will continue to work together closely across a wide range of activities such as security, science, aviation, sport and academia. This is mutually beneficial and inevitable; it isn't credible to imagine this either could or should end.

There are a multitude of mutually beneficial shared administrative and political activities which we will continue to participate in. For this we will have to pay our way, and why not? The advantages far outweigh the costs.

To make a real success of it, the intellectual foundation of Brexit must be pragmatic and Liberal. The Liberal case for Leave is about championing positive values and believing in reform and progress. It's about embracing our modern, diverse and dynamic society and looking to a global future. It's about recognising the enormous social and economic benefits of immigration and understanding that some of the most industrious and well-educated people in Europe have come to Britain and contributed enormously to our society.

Yes, we believe that our subordination to an anti-democratic, supranational government is unacceptable and wish to leave the political and judicial union to forge a new relationship; but we don’t merely define our vision with negative perceptions of the EU.

Liberal Brexiteers are optimistically arguing for major reforms in the way Britain is governed and for a new model for cooperation and economic integration in the European political system. We believe that now is the time to reject a false dichotomy that is well past its sell by date.

At the time of the 1975 referendum, being in favour of EEC membership was to be internationalist and outward looking. Being against was to be parochial, backward looking and narrow minded.

Back then we seemed to be in a state of terminal decline. Britain, the dreary basketcase heading for bankruptcy, stood in stark contrast to the advancing economies of Europe. In 1975, a year before the UK was forced to appeal for a £2.3 billion bailout from the IMF, the British people seemingly embraced the future by voting to remain.

Well, the 1970s were full of ideas that seemed good at the time. People wore flares un-ironically. Disco was cool. The 'Black and White Minstrel Show' and 'Love Thy Neighbour' were prime time hits. The belief that the nation state was finished and the future would be a world of Orwellian blocs had reached its zenith.

The climate began to alter from the 1980s onwards. The national mood in Britain changed dramatically, as did our economy. The Berlin Wall came down and Communism collapsed. Delors made his famous speech to the TUC and reinvigorated Euroscepticism. The Maastricht Treaty marked a great advance of the European project and established the disastrous Euro; and so set sceptical and uneasy Britain on a slow but inevitable course to the exit.

The 1992 establishment of the Single Market was a positive development. It was the central pillar of the Remain argument and infact its obvious benefits were the only reason the referendum was so close. A European marketplace is a good idea diminished by being tied to the EU's obsession with integration, but in the last two decades the EU has been losing its grip on its internal market and the logic for the UK remaining in the political union has weakened.

The Marrakesh Agreement that gave birth to the World Trade Organisation was confirmed on the 1st January 1995, with the intention of fostering cooperation at a global level and launching an initiative to reduce tariffs and barriers to trade. The modern era of globalisation was born. It posed the question: If we can break down trade barriers and create large cross border marketplaces without forcing political homogeneity, why should a nation be subordinate to a larger political entity? Far from killing it off, the nation state would flourish in the modern globalised world.

Since then, trade has increasingly been organised at a global level between international organisations ranging from private sector rulemaking bodies such as the ISO, to quasi-governmental institutions under the wing of the UN and the WTO. The key participants are governments, trade associations and blocs, corporate and industrial interests, and NGOs. The real details are not hammered out between politicians but by technical experts of each field.

Together they form a rapidly evolving global rules-based trading system in which the EU's rules are subordinate. To give one example, do you remember the revival of the infamous fuss about cucumbers, bananas, and other food standards in the referendum campaign? Those rules now originate from the Codex Alimentarius committee and the WHO.

A global regulatory regime is emerging to harmonise standards and facilitate trade. Received wisdom has it that the global trading system has stalled, but there are encouraging signs of progress. The 2013 WTO Bali trade facilitation agreement, which aims to reduce red-tape and streamline customs procedures on a worldwide scale, has vast potential.

The 2011 commitment by the US to adopt international regulation, as much of the rest of the world has done via compliance with the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, is a positive indicator.

Looking ahead, the Single Market and 'fortress Europe', will become far less important. Building a global marketplace is the key to increasing and spreading prosperity. Britain can play an active part in helping to kick start the trading system and reinvigorate global trade.

For now, however, it's a matter of one step at a time.  There can be no doubt that we face a daunting task in negotiating a settlement. To manage the transition and facilitate our negotiations we must pursue a solution based on entry into the European Economic Area which will give us an economically secure exit and a strong platform to build on.
This means leaving the EU. It is nonsense to assert that it constitutes EU membership under another name. EEA members are not part of the EU, full stop.

Forget the old canard that they have no say on the rules of the market. The EEA contains provisions to ensure extensive consultation before EU legislation is integrated into the Agreement. We will also have the opportunity to shape the rules in the international bodies and conferences from which the substance of much EU regulation now originates, and we will be free to form ad-hoc alliances to pursue shared goals and protect our interests.

The EEA is a perfectly acceptable starting point. It represents a vast repatriation of policy making power. We will be entirely free from political union and out of the jurisdiction of the ECJ. The “safeguard measures” contained within Article 112 provide a means of limiting EU immigration and opens up the possibility of a longer term solution which, combined with properly coordinated and executed domestic policy, can lead to better management of migration.

The original decision to join the EEC was a mistake. We joined on economic grounds when the political consequences were vastly more important. In hindsight, we'd have been better off retaining and developing our global trading links and leading EFTA as a market based counterpart to the EU. Now we have an opportunity to reverse that decision that we must embrace. 

Ben Kelly is the online director for Conservatives for Liberty.  He blogs at The Sceptic Isle.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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