Theresa May’s Brexit is like “being trapped on a burning platform”

Theresa May © Getty Images
Theresa May’s intransigence is pushing us toward a less than ideal solution

Ever since the result of the EU referendum was announced there has been a big debate over the role that Parliament should have in Brexit. In the past few weeks, the government has been defeated multiple times in the House of Lords, while the Commons recently passed a non-binding resolution aimed at keeping the government committed to remaining in the customs union (the government deliberately abstained).

One key backbencher who has been leading the fight for a softer Brexit is the Labour MP Stephen Kinnock. Kinnock is a member of the Brexit Select Committee, which released a report at the end of the March looking at the various options.

The report stopped short of explicitly favouring a specific option, but the general view of the members was pretty clear from the fact that it said that if the government’s preferred option of a bespoke deal was not possible, “EFTA/EEA membership remains an alternative and would have the advantage of continuity of access for UK services”.

For his part, Kinnock is clear that “a soft Brexit is the best option for our economy”. After all, it is pretty clear that “by far our largest trading partner is the one on the doorstep and we must work hard to keep that intact”.

Despite the fact that it “ticks a number of boxes”, including ending the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, the Norway model has been criticised on the ground that it would turn us into a “rule taker”  and would include accepting freedom of movement. However, Kinnock thinks that these problems have been exaggerated.

EEA members “have voice at the table”

“Despite what many pundits think,” EEA members “have a voice at the table,” he argues. In any case, “the only country that is not a rule taker to a certain degree is North Korea” and many international standards “just copy and paste the relevant European law”.

The issue of immigration is a little trickier. But Kinnock remains confident that Britain would be able to win some concessions on how freedom of movement operates if it was willing to accept the wider principle. In his view, “the negotiations are like building a house: once you agree the foundation and the general plans, you can haggle over windows and chimneys”.

Articles 112 and 113 of the EEA agreement “allow countries to impose an emergency break, one which would crucially come into effect while negotiations over the exact details took place”.

Europe has also been willing to show some flexibility. For example, Lichtenstein has industry-by-industry quotas and Switzerland would have been given the right to invoke Articles 112 & 113 if the Swiss had voted to join the EEA in 1992.

Indeed, if the government have failed to get Europe to compromise it is only because of “the prime minister’s incompetence”. Instead of accepting that “the result of the last general election show that there is no mandate for her red lines” she continues to “waste time” with her current strategy.

It’s not too late for a soft Brexit

With the March 2019 exit date less than a year away “we are in a similar position to a person trapped on a burning platform”. Still, even at this late stage “it would be possible to join EFTA, retain our place in the EEA, which we are currently part of by virtue of our EU membership, and then invoke Article 112”.

Kinnock admits that the issue of the customs union is primarily important “because of Northern Ireland”. Indeed, if the border wasn’t an issue he’d “be more relaxed about the prospect of low-key controls along the lines of Norway and Sweden”, although even then “there are big worries about how our ports will adapt”. Still, there’s no way he can see of getting around the Irish problem without Britain staying in the customs union.

Overall, Kinnock is worried that May’s intransigence is pushing us “toward a CETA agreement [EU/Canada free trade agreement] that doesn’t include services and would lead to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic”.

At the moment, his big priority is to introduce an amendment to the Withdrawal Bill that would keep the UK in the EEA. A similar amendment will be debated and voted on in the House of Lords during the Bill’s report stage. With the support of sympathetic Conservatives, says Kinnock, this could “command a solid majority of the Commons”, although these pro-European moderates “are coming under a huge amount of pressure”.

  • Simon

    We are a small nation, with low productivity and large swathes of our best manufacturing owned by foreign companies – the car sector – we don’t have the clout on our own to be a rule maker so we will inevitably be a rule taker in any significant deal, be it the US, China, Japan etc. The hard Brexit contigent that think we can forge trade deals on our own terms are delusional. We may be able to negotiate trade deals outside the EU but we won’t dictate the terms.

  • Neil Wagstaff

    The only way of getting around the Irish problem without Britain staying in the customs union is to take Sir Paul McCartney’s advice and Give Ireland Back to the Irish..

    • Cynic_Rick

      Quote:

      “The only way of getting around the Irish problem without Britain staying in the customs union is to take Sir Paul McCartney’s advice and Give Ireland Back to the Irish..”

      And when did Sir Paul McCartney become an expert on the EU?

      And this is it; this is part of the problem. A lot of people seem to be influenced by so-called ‘prestigious’ individuals rather than by the truly wise and knowledgeable, such as Richard North.

      Apart from the ‘prestige’ afforded by occupation of public office and similar, these days the masses are controlled to an extent through the worship of so-called celebrities (aka slebs).

      Whereas once they were controlled through the worship of God.

  • Cynic_Rick

    E) Quote this article:

    “At the moment, his [Kinnock’s] big priority is to introduce an amendment to the Withdrawal Bill that would keep the UK in the EEA.”

    For the avoidance of doubt, the only way to stay in the EEA after leaving the EU is via rejoining Efta.

    The advantage of being in the EEA is, of course, access to the Single Market.

  • Cynic_Rick

    D) Quote this article:

    “Overall, Kinnock is worried that May’s intransigence is pushing us “toward a CETA agreement [EU/Canada free trade agreement] that doesn’t include services and would lead to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic”.

    I find it extremely hard to believe the Irish, whether from Eire or the North, would countenance any agreement or whatever leading to the re-instatement of a Hard Border between the two.

    The only way to avoid such a Hard Border is via participation in the Single Market and fine tuning c/o the EEA Agreement.

  • Cynic_Rick

    C) Quote this article:
    “Kinnock admits that the issue of the customs union is primarily important “because of Northern Ireland”. Indeed, if the border wasn’t an issue he’d “be more relaxed about the prospect of low-key controls along the lines of Norway and Sweden”, although even then “there are big worries about how our ports will adapt”. Still, there’s no way he can see of getting around the Irish problem without Britain staying in the customs union.”

    The Customs Union is an irrelevance. When we leave the EU we leave The Customs Union, period.

    It is leaving the Single Market which is the issue of primary importance. If we weren’t leaving the Single Market the Irish Border issue would not be an issue, would not be a problem.

    The EEA Agreement is a very versatile arrangement and rejoining the EEA via rejoining Efta would not necessitate the border in Ireland being a replica of the border arrangement between Norway and Sweden; it could be even much nearer frictionless than that.

    Richard North explains it well here:
    http://eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=86837
    For example:
    “As to the workings if the EEA in respect of Efta states, the land border between Norway and Sweden is not entirely frictionless. But many of the border checks currently carried out are a matter of choice – arising from the policing of alcohol and tobacco duties, for instance.”

  • Cynic_Rick

    B) Quote this article:

    “…Kinnock remains confident that Britain would be able to win some concessions on how freedom of movement operates if it was willing to accept the wider principle.

    “…Articles 112 and 113 of the EEA agreement “allow countries to impose an emergency break, one which would crucially come into effect while negotiations over the exact details took place”.

    It’s much better than “an emergency brake” and as I’ve posted on these threads before:
    https://moneyweek.com/britain-soft-brexit-eea-efta-carl-baudenbacher-interview/#comments

    “…via Article 112 of the EEA Agreement [we’d be enabled to] unilaterally declare some control over any or all of the four Freedoms of Movement if we wished.”

    The keyword being *unilaterally*; furthermore the control wouldn’t be temporary (as intimated by “emergency brake” but, by precedence, be as good as permanent.

  • Cynic_Rick

    A) Quote this article:
    “… the Norway model has been criticised on the ground that it would turn us into a “rule taker” and would include accepting freedom of movement. However, Kinnock thinks that these problems have been exaggerated.”

    As I’ve posted on these threads before:
    https://moneyweek.com/britain-soft-brexit-eea-efta-carl-baudenbacher-interview/#comments

    Regarding “rule-taker”:

    “So having departed from the EU we will continue to be subject to overwhelmingly the same regulations as of now – this state of affairs being termed by Richard North as the “double coffin lid phenomenon”

    Many of these regulations are formed in Geneva by UNECE. Under the EEA/Efta umbrella the UK would thus be enabled to have a say in the formation by UNECE of new regulations; regulations which the EU would have to enforce!

    So, in leaving the EU and joining EEA/Efta, the UK far from losing a say in regulation formation would in very many instances have a say over and above that of the EU.”

    And, regarding ‘Freedom of Movement’:

    “…via Article 112 of the EEA Agreement [we’d be enabled to] unilaterally declare some control over any or all of the four Freedoms of Movement if we wished.”

  • Cynic_Rick

    I, again, congratulate Matthew for his article.

    Stephen Kinnock talks a lot more sense than I’m hearing from other politicians. However, he appears not to understand everything correctly, which is not surprising because it takes someone of Richard North’s extraordinary intellect and gargantuan knowledge of the EU to unravel the complexities of our entanglement with the EU.

    It could be that Kinnock endeavours to source his knowledge of the EU from Richard North’s website:

    http://www.eureferendum.com

    Whilst I congratulate Stephen Kinnock on his support for Efta/EEA, I aim, below at A), B), C), D) & E), to:

    1) enhance some of what is reported in this article as being Kinnock’s assertions, and

    2) correct some of that which is reported in this article which I construe as being Kinnock’s misunderstandings.

    Incidentally, I’m hearing a lot of garbage emanating from many other politicians and media sources. It should be a cause of great concern to us all.

    • Andrew Crow

      “I’m hearing a lot of garbage emanating from many other politicians and media sources. It should be a cause of great concern to us all.”

      Too true. A lot of arguing the toss, in ways that generate considerably more heat than light.

      • Cynic_Rick

        Quote:

        “Too true. A lot of arguing the toss, in ways that generate considerably more heat than light.”

        If you mean by:

        ‘heat’:- the misinformation and misrepresentations perpetrated by politicians and the media at large borne of ignorance, incompetence and arrogance leading to misunderstanding, confusion and the drawing of incorrect conclusions by the general public

        ‘light’ :- opposite of ‘heat’

        Then, I agree. Indeed, that generation is considerably “considerably more”!

        http://eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=86867

        “Mrs May is thus accused of “sinking into quicksand”, a description which could apply equally to the political classes and the media.”

  • Andrew Crow

    “….Instead of accepting that “the result of the last general election show that there is no mandate for her red lines” ….”

    Interesting point which has not been made often, or loudly enough.

    • Cynic_Rick

      Quote:
      “”….Instead of accepting that “the result of the last general election show that there is no mandate for her red lines” ….”

      Interesting point which has not been made often, or loudly enough.”

      There was no mention of them on the Referendum voting slips, so where have “her red lines” come from?

      I would suggest they have originated from a source(s) to whom the outcome of strict adherence (to these red lines) would be to suit their prejudices; to satisfy the greed of some devious, immoral individuals; the Disaster Capitalists.

      And they, via their useful idiot puppets, have managed to indoctrinate vociferous factions of the populous (the noisy sheep) into the belief that in order to leave the EU these red lines must be obeyed; and that “no deal is better than a bad deal”.

  • Cynic_Rick

    Here’s another one like Stephen Kinnock; Stephen Hammond a Tory MP.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/11/brexit-crisis-decision-trade-economy-efta

    He supports Efta/EEA but like Stephen Kinnock appears not to understand everything correctly.

    For instance:
    “However, we will need a customs union or partnership-type solution as well to avoid damage to our economy. This is essential to avoid tariffs and costly rules of origin requirements that would create a physical barrier to trade across Ireland, but also to prevent the need for increases of infrastructure at ports in England, Scotland and Wales.”

    Utter rubbish!

    As regards “costly rules of origin [ROOS] requirements that would create a physical barrier to trade”:

    https://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/sites/taxation/files/resources/documents/customs/customs_duties/rules_origin/preferential/guide-contents_annex_1_en.pdf

    Whilst trading within the Single Market [whether via Efta/EEA of EU/EEA] no Hard Border is required because the burden of proof is on the trader and there is no need to check consignments to ascertain whether tariffs are due because they apply automatically unless the trader can prove otherwise.

    http://eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=86847

  • Cynic_Rick

    Further to my reference to Stephen Hammond of yesterday:

    Despite the misunderstandings, there’s hope yet:

    http://eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=86868

    “With even the likes of Hammond now knowing this [we would merely be rule-takers not rule-makers] to be false (even though he doesn’t have the complete picture), we have backbenchers who are ahead of the game, in what could have the makings of a grass-roots revolution.

    “And while the Commons has a never-ending capacity to disappoint, it would be hugely ironic if Brexit was to precipitate a successful cross-party back-bencher rebellion – with the rebels acting in the national interest [Efta/EEA].”