Saturday, 29 July 2017

A note on sovereignty and related EFTA myths

I knew that almost immediately after coming out in favour of leaving the European Union via EFTA, I would be bombarded by both Leavers and Remainers with vague and misleading claims about sovereignty. Bizarrely, they are united where they shouldn't be. They tell me that Norway (the option I believe Britain would benefit from pursuing most) has no say in single market rules, and thus transitioning to EFTA would represent a wholesale degradation of the UK's sovereignty. I knew this would happen because, back when I was in full referendum mode, now well over a year ago, I used to spread the same spurious falsehoods. 

As I reflect, I am at least comforted by the fact that I did not do it maliciously. I was so concerned about winning at all costs and with my own ego that I didn't bother to engage in any serious way with the important material on the subject. To cut a long story short, the result was that I told what I now realise were plain untruths about the nature of the role and participation in the EEA of EFTA's three single market states. But no bother. I am now freer to learn and improve, and correct many of these mistakes. Getting to grips with this whole process is, after all, a huge learning curve. 

The issue with sovereignty is that conceptually, (philosophically?) it is quite a nebulous and unhelpful term. Columnists in the FT, such as David Allen Green, as well as senior Remain campaigners last year, argue consistently that the British parliament has always been sovereign on the basis that it chooses to be a member of the European Union. There is, of course, a basic truth to this, but the issue is that in choosing, there come massive restrictions in our ability to self-govern. Forty years of handing over 'competences' to Brussels has left systemic, technical and administrative shortages in Whitehall that would otherwise not necessarily have existed. This is perhaps one of the more important reasons why departing from the European Union slowly is paramount. Like an adolescent moving out and living independently for the first time, swift change is a shock to the system. 

I prefer to view sovereignty more simply. As I see it, there are established institutions throughout Europe, and indeed globally, which have a significant impact upon the way in which we live our lives. I think we should proceed with the view in mind that international organisations aren't going anywhere, and that we should seek to alter our relationships with these bodies (not just the EEA, EU, Customs Union and EFTA, but also agencies like the World Trade Organisation and the UNECE) in such a way that we are able to smoothly restore these once lost 'competences', or pockets of sovereignty, back to the politicians that we elect to run them. If we leave everything in snap fashion and without a plan, Westminster will find itself sitting upon a stockpile of tasks it will not be able to recruit in time or effectively to deal with. 

A transition to EFTA is an amicable compromise in that it helps to untangle the UK with Common policies directed in Brussels in major areas, particularly across industries like agriculture and fishing, where we have skills and the necessary infrastructure already in place to help ease the restoration of sovereignty. It is also useful in that upon re-joining, we are able to retake seats at global bodies where formally we were represented by the interests of the European Union. 

With respect to the second image, pay particular attention to the arrow moving to the right, from the global standards bodies to the European Union. Often, Remainers use as part of their fanatical sovereignty ravings the argument that EFTA states must abide by EU-imposed rules in paralysed subordination. Most such rules come from international institutions, and so such is the case that, even without the single market, the UK (either in a rushed panic, or with measured, careful planning) would eventually replicate many of the same trading standards as those which are picked up in Brussels. No conversation about sovereignty and Brexit is complete without this point being made. 

So the 'pay but no say' mantra can, with even a small amount of research, be pulled apart rather well. It is also worth adding that as per the EEA Agreement 1994, Article 112 guarantees safeguards against excesses and abuses of the four single market freedoms, and that, since the EEA is structured in a two-pillar format, legal adjudication amongst EFTA states is not conducted by the European Court of Justice, one of the many legal jurisdictions that Brexiteers are salivating at the prospect of leaving. Financial contributions made to the European Union are also made somewhat less burdensome by the fact that EFTA states receive grants and take part in educational and scientific initiatives. Seems perfectly reasonable to me. The idea that there exists a Brexit which will result in no financial leverage being offered to the EU, in whatever form, is nonsensical. Those who say we can break away fully and not pay either in official contributions or in weaker trade terms are living lives cushioned by ignorance. 

Britain joined the European Union by a slow, salami-slicing process. This was the case mainly to distract the electorate from the fundamental economic deception decorating ever-closer-union. It was always a political juggernaut, and as such, we must treat departure with the same level of care and mindfulness as we did entry. A transition through the European Free Trade Association won't bring all competencies crashing back to London, but there are distinct uses to this. Slow, re-integration is the name of the game. Even if parliament doesn't realise it yet. 

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