Hardliners are wrong to dismiss the model out of handby George Yarrow / January 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
The EEA option, i.e. continuing participation in the European Economic Area Agreement (EEAA) on terms equivalent to those of Norway, is frequently dismissed as a “second best” Brexit option. As the nearest competitor to the favoured “first-best” options of enthusiasts for hard Brexit or for Remain it naturally gets trashed from both ends of the spectrum. It does though have very considerable merits, which for me make it first-best by a significant margin. Here’s why.
First, it directly addresses the underlying problem in all this: a widespread domestic aversion to the process of political integration to which the EU is, and always has been, committed. It does so in a highly focused way that avoids major collateral damage to the economy. Taken together, these characteristics mean that it’s the only Brexit option that is well aligned with best-practice policy-making principles.
The EEA option holds on to the economic parts of the EU acquis that sustain the single market—the aspect of the EU that is widely regarded as its most successful feature—whilst dispensing with the more political parts. Wheat and chaff are separated and the former is retained. Retained is the right word here, because the UK is already a contracting party to the EEAA.
In short, there is no need to abandon an existing trade and economic cooperation agreement (the EEAA), which meets the prime minister’s “deep and special” criteria, in order to resolve a problematic divergence in political aims and priorities.
The EEAA is an international Treaty and, as the Attorney General explained to the cabinet in relation to the infamous Irish “backstop,” such Treaties endure indefinitely, until terminated by actions in conformity with international law. No such terminating steps having been taken, the Agreement will now necessarily live on post-Brexit, for the “transition period” at least. The EU-UK withdrawal agreement anticipates this—it is implicit, though unadvertised, in the footnote to the WA’s Article129(1)—but it leaves most powers of decision with the EU institutions. That is a deviation from Norwegian terms of EEA membership and represents an unnecessary surrender of sovereignty. It could be remedied by a simple amendment to the WA.
In responding to the underlying issue (divergence in attitudes to political integration), the EEA option is almost, but not quite,a bull’s eye: the UK would probably like also to hang on to tariff-free trade in agri-foods and fisheries, i.e. to products that are not covered by the EEAA. That could however be remedied by a 21-month standstill agreement…