I know you. I know who you are, what you think and why you think it. I know because I used to be quite a lot like you. Like many of you, I used to believe that Faragism had pretty much all the answers to every question posed by Britain's departure from the European Union. I thought, like most of you still do, that withdrawal would be quick and simple, as long as we decided to make it so. And I was under the impression that large scale repatriation of sovereignty, from Brussels to Westminster, would be of unequivocal benefit. Mr Farage, especially, had a profound influence on me, once an impressionable 19 year old entering politics, precisely because he had a way of utilising his undoubted oratory skill and charismatic, plain-speaking demeanour to convince others of his cause. Populists often demonstrate this trait because they are able to say what more establishment politicians are not.
That isn't to say that Brexit can be explained largely by populist upsurge. This is the sort of lazy thinking demonstrated by academics like A.C Grayling. Brexit is right for the same reason Clement Attlee opposed British involvement in the then European Coal and Steel Community: democracy cannot effectively exceed the remit of the nation state. But anti-establishment figures like Farage (who always, I have noticed, want to be part of the establishment themselves) deliberately painted a very black and white picture of what Brexit ought to look like. Alongside him, UKIP, certain sections of the Tory party, the Breitbart monstrosity, Grassroots Out and, more recently, the painful and cringeworthy Westmonster, all got together to hammer home the belief that Brexit necessarily equated to leaving the single market. In their relentless war against freedom of movement, they created a false monopoly on the term 'Brexit'.
I know why they did it. They had to create an association between mass immigration and participation in the single market in order to convince people to vote Leave. It was done cleverly, but the domestic political support for ending free movement is now perhaps the largest obstacle sitting in the way of executing our EU departure in an orderly and sensible fashion. I don't know if it can be knocked down in time, but if it isn't, Brexit may become just the latest in a long line of political utopias that didn't quite happen because it was never properly tried.
Even Vote Leave exacerbated the problem before it even got under way. Dominic Cummings, who directed the campaign, blogged before the referendum on the prospect of presenting a credible Brexit plan to the electorate. He decided not to partially on the grounds that:
"constructing such a plan depends partly on inherently uncertain assumptions about what is politically sellable in a referendum, making it even harder to rally support behind a plan."
I am certain that here he is referring to the apparent implausibility of recommending the public follows a path which guarantees the continuation of free movement. It has since, I would add, been put to me that if Leave advocated a Flexcit-type model for leaving the European Union, it would have neutralised Remain's xenophobia rhetoric and that many who opted for Remain would have been enticed by the combination of EEA participation and an end to ever closer union. They did, after all, struggle when arguing that the European Union in its present form could be reformed.
The problem ever since has been that those Leavers (whether they were Flexcit diehards or not) who wanted to leave via the single market have been totally disregarded, both by the media, who seem incapable of distinguishing between important institutions and terminology, and by fellow Leavers, who view them as saboteurs and Remain supporters by stealth. Nothing could be further from the truth. Only this morning I saw the Leave.EU official Twitter account promote a petition calling for Philip Hammond to step down for an 'attempted betrayal of the referendum'. All he did was suggest that there may have to be implemented some sort of transitional deal, between the point at which we leave the European Union and the point at which the new treaty-bound arrangements and thus the UK's new relationship with the EU enter force. He isn't a traitorous man, he's a thinking man. Thankfully Leave.EU are nowhere near power (or sense) for their antics to be problematic.
The first thing then to note here is that, if the government pursues a messy Brexit, involving withdrawal from the EEA, the UK becomes what the EU refers to as a 'third party country'. This isn't out of negotiating spite, it is out of our desire to leave existing treaty arrangements, namely the EEA Agreement 1994. Becoming a third party country, I did not realise until very recently, will hurt productivity and weaken drastically our trading terms with the single market. Richard North notes:
"Our exporters then have to look at the EU through new eyes. No longer are they part of the vast Single Market, where goods shipped from the UK to mainland Europe did not come under customs control. Instead, like any other "third country", we come under the full panoply of customs controls.
Not only are there EU restrictions, many EU member states maintain their own list of goods subject to import licensing. For example , we are told, Germany's "Import List" (Einfuhrliste) includes goods for which licenses are required, their code numbers, any applicable restrictions, and the agency that will issue the relevant license.
Once that hurdle is overcome, the exporters must prepare their written declarations to customs, in the form of the Single Administrative Document (SAD), an eight-part document running to a minimum of twelve pages.
The SAD describes goods and their movement around the world and, effectively the passport for the goods, needed to secure their entry into the EU customs territory.
Even without going any further, there is a significant cost element here. Mistakes in completing the SAD can lead to expensive hold-ups at the posts, so many firms hire customs or shipping agents, paying anything up to £60 for each form submitted."
A year and half ago, when I wasn't paying attention to much more than videos of Daniel Hannan on YouTube, I didn't engage with substantive nuances in trading relationships like this. But I digress. The point is that if a hard Brexit causes chaos like this (which I have barely scratched the surface on), you can bet that domestic political forces, including the business community and millions in protest, will begin to eddy and circulate around forcing the government to abandon its course. If, in trying to please those who are obsessed with immigration and treating European institutions as if we can live without them, we cause untold economic and political disruption, there is absolutely the danger that Brexit will not happen at all.
Of course, it's not only immigration that prevents many of you from supporting a market solution to leaving the EU. Many months of Remain propaganda will have you believing that Norway 'pays with no say', or whatever the phrase is. In my blog post yesterday, I refuted this falsehood. Single market rules are largely adopted from global bodies, like the WTO and the UNECE, (incidentally bodies that Britain would regain its participatory seat at upon rejoining EFTA), and EFTA members benefit from grant schemes like Erasmus and funding for science and research, so they get proportionally more out of (lower) EEA membership costs.
I also made the critical point that restoring sovereignty to Westminster ought to be done in a slow fashion, since the last 40 years of passing competencies and responsibility for decision making up to Brussels has left departmental, administrative and technical shortages here in Britain. If we leave everything and sit, helplessly flooded by returning sovereignty, our civil service will panic and struggle to function productively. It is all well and good saying: we can now do this, this and this, but without the resources in place to fully administer independent national policy across a range of sectors, sovereignty will cease to be rewarding and will hang like dead weight around Whitehall's neck. It is best to welcome pockets of sovereignty back slowly to the UK, where the task is more manageable and the government won't be looking over its shoulder at a crumbling economy.
The best argument for pursuing EFTA membership as a means of leaving the European Union is that it ensures the very time, leverage and economic stability necessary to shield against the rashness that will ultimately derail Brexit. It is time hard Brexiteers made a concession of their own, if not for their fellow Leavers then for the sake of a successful Brexit. The phrase 'good things come to those who wait' comes powerfully to mind. We can't have it all at once. We joined this juggernaut slowly and that is how we should leave it.
I urge those of you to whom this letter may be relevant to take into deep consideration what I have said. EFTA and the EEA could well be our only hope. It's time Brexiteers did what we couldn't do last year: unite and mobilise pragmatically, or none of us will get what we want.