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Staying in the EEA is the only way to satisfy leavers and protect the economy

Staying in the European Economic Area and re-joining the European Free Trade Association is the only way to satisfy leavers and keep Brexit economic damage to a minimum, says Pete North, editor of Leave HQ.  

Because it is important, most media vessels will have attempted their own analysis of the Northern Ireland border problem and they will also say roughly the same thing – that it is an unsolvable conundrum.

 

It is, however, only unsolvable through the prism of politics, where there is no solution which does not leave one or other party feeling betrayed.

 

In more pragmatic terms, however, there is a whole UK solution that has been staring us in the face all this time.

 

That would be the so-called Norway option – re-joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and retaining our membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement.

 

Obstructive

 

Should you mention this, you will be greeted with a torrent of ‘Ah but...’. The ah buts, though, are little more than obstructive noise. What is missing is an understanding of what the EEA agreement actually is.

 

Far from being a static treaty, it is an adaptive framework for relations with the EU with its own institutions – and no two members of the EEA have the exact same relationship with the EU by way of a series of country specific protocols.

 

The debate has been side-tracked with chatter about customs unions and customs partnerships, all of which fail to grasp that the fundamental component of frictionless trade is regulatory harmonisation. Everything else is just paperwork.

 

Brexiters have floated the idea of a technology-based solution which can, given time, eliminate the need for a customs union, but that solves only a tenth of the issues.

 

Conformity

 

Only the EEA can address the issues pertaining to regulatory conformity and certification – on everything from pharmaceuticals to airline components.

 

The customs aspects pertaining to tariff revenue can and should be handled electronically, and there is already an EU initiative to eliminate most of the paperwork – introducing the Single Window framework developed by the UN Economic Commission for Europe. All of this can be added to a UK-specific protocol in the EEA agreement.

 

The point, though, is we cannot even begin to address the issues until we have a framework and the institutions necessary to facilitate this. That is why the EEA is such a no-brainer.

 

It honours the referendum by way of ending the political union of the EU, but retains the maximum possible economic cooperation.

 

Rule-taker

 

There are plenty of concerns about what the EEA would mean for the UK in terms of us becoming a rule taker, which admittedly is suboptimal, but closer examination finds the EEA deals mainly with technical regulations to facilitate trade, nearly all of which are based on global standards – which makes the EU as much a rule-taker as anyone else.

 

The Brexiters may crave regulatory sovereignty, but in the modern trade sphere nobody on earth has full regulatory sovereignty and businesses are not as keen on deregulation as the ideologues would have us believe. Many do not want to go to the expense of re-equipping for a new regime.

 

For all that the EEA may be suboptimal, the perfection sought by Brexiters simply does not exist, nor is it politically attainable.

 

It does, however, have one singular virtue which appeals to leavers like me. It would actually get us out of the EU faster, with minimal economic harm and without lingering in a permanent state of transition. Uncertainty is the big killer in this equation.

 

Easier

 

The Brexit process has shown it is far easier to give powers away than it is to reclaim them, and it has shown just how much power has been given away. We should, therefore, assume it will take as long to uncouple as it did to get us to this point.

 

Consequently, Brexit should be viewed as a process rather than an event. The fundamental mistake of this Government is to assume it can all be done at once.

 

The EEA as a framework, with its system for opt-outs, would provide a stable environment for the withdrawal process, while adding clout to EFTA.

 

It would repatriate most of what is important to leavers and give us the ability to trade independently. It may not be perfect, but it certainly beats the alternatives.


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