BrexitCentral: Don’t be fooled: EFTA or EEA membership would not let us take back control

It’s time to respect the referendum and do a proper job of leaving Europe. This means we must take back control of our borders, laws, money and trade.

There’s no point being out of Europe, yet still being run by Europe. That’s why whatever deal we might do, we must ensure that our Supreme Court is supreme. It would be a mistake to sign up slavishly to follow European rules and product laws after we leave, with no vote on making them or changing them. Nor should we agree anything that makes it harder for us to do trade deals around the world.

Why does this matter? Because most of our exports go outside the EU already, and 90% of global economic growth will come from outside the EU in the future. Relatively, Europe has been in steady economic decline for decades. The EU used to account for 30% of the global economy a few years ago. Today it’s just 15%. Being able to trade more with fast-growing nations will mean that as they grow, we grow. If we make the most of our independence to reform our economy and forge stronger links the world over, it will mean a brighter future for Britain.

That’s why we should not sign up to any EU rulebook, nor allow European Court of Justice rulings to apply to Britain. Yet this is exactly what the Prime Minister has suggested with her Chequers proposals. And some others are suggesting the idea that we should join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) like Norway.

But joining EFTA does not give access to the EU Single Market. So under this plan we would not simply join EFTA but, like Norway, we would have to sign up to the European Economic Area (EEA) too. Under the EEA, our Supreme Court would be expected to follow the rulings of the EFTA Court. The EFTA Court in turn must follow the rulings of the European Court of Justice. The Supreme Court would not be supreme.

Under the EEA’s rules, we would also have to follow the EU Single Market rulebook on goods, services and the free movement of persons, as well as environment, consumer protection and employment law. So we could not decide to bring back things like more powerful steam irons or vacuum cleaners with greater suction power, or reform daft directives telling people how to climb up a ladder. If we tried to change our rules or refused to adopt new rules, we would be bullied into submission by EU threats of loss of market access. That’s what happened when Norway refused to follow the EU’s Postal Directive. They soon fell into line.

Backers of the EEA idea claim we would get a say over any new European rules we would be required to adopt in the future. They are living is a fantasy land. The European Parliament itself says that the EFTA countries in the EEA “have little influence on the final decision on the legislation on the EU side”.

The EEA idea would make us subject to the full EU single market – including free movement of persons. This would mean uncontrolled EU immigration would continue indefinitely after we leave the EU. In addition, we would have to pay huge sums to join EFTA and the EEA. So, we would not take back control of our laws, borders or money.

Some people backing the EEA idea claim that the UK has a legal right to belong to the EEA after we leave the EU, because the UK, along with the other EU Member States, is a party to the treaty between the EU and the EEA states. This is just plain wrong. It would need the agreement of every single EU member state, plus the three EEA states, in order for us to be in the EEA after we have left the EU.

The EEA option fails to respect the referendum. It would be bad for Britain. The Prime Minister’s Chequers proposals suffer from many of the same problems. We would sign up to an EU rulebook. The European Court of Justice would have ultimate say in any dispute on the interpretation of those rules. We would be pretty much forced to agree new rules that the EU makes with little say in the matter.

It would be unacceptable for Britain to be out of Europe, yet still run by Europe. If we are truly to take back control, then neither the EEA nor the Chequers proposals would be a good deal for Britain.

It’s important for the Government to believe in Britain and in the strength of our negotiating position. Ours is the fifth biggest economy in the world. The EU stands to lose most from any problems with customs checks at the borders – the EU sells more to us than we do to them. They sell us £95 billion more in goods every year than we sell to them. Any tariffs would hit EU exports twice as hard as the other way around. If they tried to shut out of banks from trading in the EU it would make borrowing more expensive for EU businesses. This would make EU countries even less competitive than they are today. Small wonder that Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, said “it will be worse in Europe than here”.

Instead we should seek an advanced free trade agreement like Canada and Japan. That way we would continue to trade positively with the EU. Yet we would also be in charge of our laws, borders, money and trade. We would be free to do trade deals around the globe while still trading closely with the EU.

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