The Corner

National Security & Defense

Brexit: The EEAs(ier) Way Out

In a recent post, I mentioned how fears about Britain’s economic prospects outside the EU were damaging the chances of a vote for Brexit on June 23.

Channeling EU Referendum’s Richard North and the Adam Smith Institute’s Roland Smith, I argued that  the best way to counter such fears was by joining the European Economic Area—the Norway option, to use the shorthand:

It’s dull, and that’s the point: Dull is reassuring. Signing up for the EEA also recognizes the reality that, after decades of British entanglement with Brussels, leaving the EU is a process, not one bold break, however much romantics might wish otherwise.

In the Daily Telegraph today, Allister Heath writes:

[T]he Leave campaign faces an increasingly difficult dilemma: as a broad Left-Right independence coalition, whose members disagree on just about everything other than the need for self-governance, it is finding it tricky to articulate a strong macroeconomic case for Brexit.

This is becoming a major issue, especially for more prosperous, middle-class, centrist and Tory-leaning voters in London and across the country who are craving reassurance that it’s safe to vote for Brexit. Many Telegraph readers fall into this camp; and we all have friends, relatives and neighbours who are vacillating, wondering whether maybe – just maybe – there may be some truth to the endless supply of screaming, hysterical anti-Brexit reports.

Just because these reports are nonsense, argues Heath, that doesn’t mean they can be ignored.


And one of the things that is required to rebut this nonsense is an explanation of the ‘how’ of Brexit as well as the why.


The core assumption of the anti-Brexit economists is that leaving would erect damaging barriers to trade; the pro-Brexit side must take on and demolish these arguments. The good news is that it’s quite easy to do so. The Leave campaign’s long-term aim is to break away completely from the EU. But there is no doubt that, were we to vote Leave on June 23, the UK would seek to adopt, as an interim solution, a Norwegian-style relationship with the EU which ensures that we remain in the single market, giving us plenty of time to work out new arrangements with the rest of the world.

That is both the only realistic way we would quit the EU – the only model, that, plausibly, MPs would support as a cross-party compromise deal – and the best possible way for us to do it. The Norwegians would welcome us with open arms, as their own influence would be enhanced, and other EU nations would seek to join us. Such a deal would eliminate most of the costs of leaving, while delivering a hefty dose of benefits as a down payment.

The Norway option would mean that the UK retained access to the EU’s ‘single market’, and that’s key. Support for Brexit fell after Michael Gove, the Tory Justice Minister who has (and all credit to him for it) joined the Brexit campaign, explained that quitting the EU would mean quitting the single market. No, it need not. 

Heath, meanwhile, notes that the Norway option “was mysteriously absent from the Treasury’s ludicrous analysis of the short-term impact of Brexit”.

Mysteriously absent.


Four of British Prime Minister David Cameron‘s main political opponents enjoy greater public trust than he does on the question of European Union membership, according to an opinion poll published Wednesday.

Just 18 per cent of respondents in the YouGov poll for The Times newspaper said they trust Cameron, who is campaigning for Britain to vote to remain in the EU ahead of an in-out referendum on June 23. Fellow Conservative Boris Johnson, who is spearheading the Vote Leave campaign, is the most trusted, with 31 per cent backing him….

The newspaper said the “so-called Project Fear, the series of outlandish claims used by Mr Cameron to try to win the referendum for Remain, is making him increasingly unpopular.”

Those wanting to know more about that “mysterious” absence can visit The Sceptic Isle.

An extract (my emphasis added):

Given that the EFTA/EEA option is by far the most viable and one of the few realistically achievable options; it should not be left out of any reasonable and honest analysis. Despite Vote Leave [the ‘official’ Brexit vehicle]not campaigning on it, there is now a significant and growing faction within the Leave camp openly endorsing it. It is accepted in Whitehall [the British civil service] as the best way of transitioning out of the EU and it is the only secession deal that will be passed through the Commons.

The most likely explanation is that the Treasury left this scenario out because the economic impact is minimal even when analysed as negatively as possible; it would avoid recession and this would have ruined the whole theme [Brexit as the route to disaster] of the report.

It would have been a very inconvenient truth.

Meanwhile, Chris Cook of the BBC’s flagship Newsnight has been looking at the  EEA option.

He writes:

One question I’ve been putting to senior government officials of late is the question of what “Out” looks like. The fact that I’m doing this is, itself, indicative of problems for the Leave campaign. They cannot bind the government to negotiate in any detail. If they win, it is left to the government to sort out.

This was the trap that Cameron set. His set the debate in crudely binary terms. Was Britain to be in the EU or not?  And that was that. By choosing not to say how his government would negotiate a Brexit, he deliberately left those who support leaving the EU with the dangerous vacuum that he is now happily filling with Project Fear.

Look at it another way, however, and the glass is half full. Vote Leave may be opposed to the Norway option, but, in the event of Brexit, they will not be in a position to stop what is likely to emerge as the best route to the velvet divorce from the EU that most MPs will then be hoping for.  

Clue: It runs, so to speak, through Oslo. 


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