We voted to leave and now the only question is what sort of relationship should we have with the EU? There is currently a level of uncertainty and concern and even as a staunch Leaver who campaigned vigorously for Brexit, I empathise with this. We have voted to take a bold step out of the darkness of this cloistered, economically stagnant political project and into the wider world.
There are a number of options; the Switzerland model, a customs union similar to the one Turkey enjoys, a Canadian CETA-style trade agreement and many other existing and theoretical models. We were warned by Cameron in the months leading up to the vote on 23rd June against voting to leave and ending up with a Norwegian-model relationship with Brussels. Well, I thoroughly agreed with him at the time and I still believe the UK should stay clear of the EEA, and the main reason why? Control. As the former Assistant Director for Vote Leave in Wales, we had a very concise and simple slogan ‘take control’, and I believe we owe it to the British people to do exactly this.
The EEA is an arrangement that provides for free movement of goods, services, capital and persons within the Single Market. Millions of people who voted in the referendum voted for a plethora of reasons, but a large element of those who voted to leave were concerned with uncontrolled immigration. I believe that managed immigration plays a largely beneficial and valuable role in most countries around the world, and will do so in ours too. However, if we are in the EEA we will not have full control over our borders or our immigration system.
Although EEA members have an ‘emergency brake’ on EU free movement, which permits parties to take “appropriate measures” unilaterally, the think-tank Open Europe has said the UK should “stay clear of an emergency brake on EU free movement” as an emergency brake would only target flows of new EU-migrants not the ones already in the country. In other words, it would be like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. Open Europe also suggested because the emergency brake mechanism is so vaguely defined that problems arise when it comes to what circumstances it can be used under..
I would further warn that if we remain in what is essentially an ‘EU-lite’ arrangement, with free movement of persons, there will be a considerable electoral backlash against the Conservative Party in favour of UKIP; and joining the EEA we will ensure UKIP has a raison d’etre for many more years to come.
It is correct that membership of the EEA would offer full access to the Single Market but this is a market riddled with crippled Eurozone economies. It’s the slowest growing market in the world and we have a growing trade deficit with it. The UK would be the Single Market’s biggest customer and the trend of us buying from EU nations than we sell to them is likely to increase. The idea that we would be denied fair and equitable access is quite frankly absurd. European leaders, like Germany’s Angel Merkel, would not allow this sort of blatant economic self-sabotage (or more importantly the captains of German industry would not allow it.)
Michael Roth, Germany’s European Affairs Minister, has already suggested the UK could enjoy a ‘special status’ which would take into account our size, economic strength and ‘previous commitment’ to the project, and that this relationship would bare ‘limited comparison’ to that of other non-EU states. Even Guy Verhofstadt MEP, leader of the federalist European Parliament group, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, said there is no reason why there could not be an EU-UK Free Trade deal. This would give us tariff free access to the Single Market, without having to accept free movement of persons or contribute to the EU budget.
Let’s make the most of our newly won independence, and pursue a relationship that will give us the control our country deserves and I know we can achieve.
Morgan is the Conservative’s for Liberty Membership and National Engagement Officer.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty