Richard North, 15/04/2017  
 


A good friend to this blog is Andrew Stuttaford of National Review. And in typical form he picks up and runs with the Politico.eu article on the "Norway Option", and identifies some of the flaws in it.

If, however, the Efta/EEA option has any running power then we must applaud those behind it for coming to the same conclusions that we drew those years ago when we put some serious thought into the issue.

The point we need to keep reminding people about is that we didn't wake up one day and decide that the "Norway option" was such a spiffing idea that we should buy into it. It came to us though the process of elimination, after exploring all the other options – and became adopted as the "least worst" answer to a complex issue that cannot be resolved in a mere three years.

That other people are trailing in our wake and coming to the same conclusion is thus hardly surprising. We would not be at all surprised if some of the chatterati discover it and claim it for their own. That's what they do – and nothing at all exists until they have invented it for themselves. That is why National Review is so refreshing.

But the point that then arises that, if the "Norway Option" - aka the Efta/EEA option – becomes the favoured interim (or transitional) option, then it still begs the question of what the final destination should be.

And this is where Flexcit really comes into its own. While some dismal critics have been keen to write it off, the core of the plan, in respect of our future relations with our European trading partners lies not in Phase 1, which deals merely with the mechanics of exit, but in Phase 3.

The point of Phase 3 is that, unlike the pedestrian thinkers who are obsessed with the only thing they know – the free trade agreement – this offers a real alternatives which give us at least the equivalent if not better access to European markets than existing arrangements.

As it stands, Brexit offers nothing but pain. From full participation in the Single Market, even the EEA gives us a less advantageous relationship. To treat that as a transition, buying time to negotiate a free trade agreement, puts us in an even worse position when the deal is finally struck.

This is not what Brexit was supposed to be about, where we end up worse off than when we started. The whole point was to improve our situation, not to make us second-class citizens in a "Europe" that's calling the odds.

And it's here that we leave the chatterati behind. Free trade deals are sooo last century. The progress to be made is in regulatory harmonisation on a global scale, which makes IRC (International Regulatory Cooperation) the thing of the future.

One of the leading proponents of IRC is, of course, UNECE with the development of its WP.6, refined to produce common regulatory objectives (CRO) which are actioned initially by ISO and then promulgated as international quasi-legislation.

Given that the EU is a subscriber to this process, WP.6 effectively creates a standard-setting process which trumps the European Commission's regional monopoly of proposal where only it has the right to initiate legislative proposals. Under IRC, the Commission becomes the subordinate entity, with WP.6 members calling the shots.

This is so far above the paygrade of the chatterati though, that they scarcely realise that the concept exists. In fact, it is almost totally beyond their comprehension, which is why they stay so firmly in their comfort zones, never daring to venture out into the real world.

That real world is the modern world, where tariffs are of decreasing importance and where non-tariff barriers are the impediments that the grown-ups are having to deal with. This is a world where common regulation replaces the free-for-all and hidden barriers, facilitating trade rather than slowing it down.

For all the verbiage expended on free trade agreements, we should not be wasting our time on chimera that will bring us little in the way of increased wealth, and instead concentrate our efforts on where they really matter.

And this is why the Efta/EEA option is such a good idea – not only because it is the least-worst option but also because it is tolerable for the decade or more that it will take us to craft alternatives and bring them into fruition, paving the way for a genuine European single market, rather than the narrowly focused regional version that the EU administers.

Crucially, we should not be allowing our negotiators to go into the Article 50 process with their hands empty, knowing that whatever they bring home will be worse in some senses that we have already.

The driver of any successful talks, and the progenitor of a sustainable deal is the vision our negotiators take with them. For them to put real effort into their endeavours, they need to know that they are working for something better, not merely marking time or undertaking damage limitation.

And that is what is lacking from our current stance. Tired clichés about a "Global Britain" are largely meaningless if we are unable to resolve the issues on our doorstep and then break out of the cul-de-sac of selfish bilateralism and kick-start the process of multilateralism, addressing real world issues rather than the lazy mantras of the Tory right.

All of this, though, could be too much to ask of a government that is showing little imagination and even less competence. And in that case, Efta/EEA is still a good option as a place to park while we allow the politicians to catch up. 

At least staying in the EEA for a while will do no harm, which is more than can be said for any other option on the table.






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