Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The problem with an EFTA transition

Yesterday, in a blog post explaining my advocacy for a British return to EFTA as a means of leaving the European Union, I wrote: 

"The UK should, on a transitional basis, rejoin the European Free Trade Association. I don't necessarily propose that EFTA membership should be the UK's permanent solution, but the foresight required to develop a plan beyond this one is way above my head."

Some clarification and correction is in order. Upon further consideration and consultation with readers and correspondence, I have realised that I am guilty of making a rather hasty mistake (that I am told others, better and more knowledgeable than me, have also made). I was under the impression that most in the Flexcit web regarded membership of EFTA as merely a transition; not something to be viewed as a permanent solution or alternative to a stay in the European Union. 

I don't mind making errors of this kind. I can't take credit for any involvement in the Flexcit plan, nor in the success of the web of strategic bloggers who have helped to build its profile and commentate on the referendum, merits of leaving the EU and Brexit negotiations. I joined far too late and don't claim to have the commanding knowledge of, for instance, the Norths. But what I can bring is a door to a slightly new audience of readers and political activists. This blog has been added to the blogroll at, for which I am grateful and treat it as a sign that I can prove useful both as a former hard Brexiteer and as a writer with a surprisingly large audience at such a young age. I don't know of a young blogger in Britain who maintains a weekly readership that now extends into the thousands. 

The great thing about blogging, as I bring your attention back to the sticky EFTA transition, is that it allows me to build and reflect on my views in a way that censoring guides do not allow columnists to do. For a newspaper, a publishing error is a stain on credibility. For me, an error represents the steepness of the learning curve I have willingly ventured onto. Grasping the intricacies of leaving the European Union cannot be done easily or overnight. It has taken the best of the best many years. And this rule of thumb will be no different for somebody like me. I just wish, like the web of EFTA-supporting bloggers around me, I had started much earlier on in my political journey. 

This morning I woke up and began my usual task of interchange with readers. Large portions are, of course, unhelpful renditions of 'Brexit means leaving the single market' (which it doesn't), but some was helpfully critical. Paul Reynolds' piece was brought swiftly to my attention by a reader and was something I found particularly insightful, followed by a post published by Pete North a couple of weeks ago. North explains:

"It should be noted that just the process of joining an Efta EEA arrangement is in itself is a major legal undertaking that would likely take anywhere up to five years - and we haven't even started the ground work. Why would the EU, or indeed Efta, want to go to the trouble for what would be a temporary and disruptive process? Answer: they wouldn't."

EFTA membership is a pre-made package, but that doesn't mean acquiring it or getting there will be easy. The UK is apart of the EEA by virtue of its EU membership, but it cannot negotiate rejoining EFTA until after the Article 50 period has been completed. This is because until then, the UK is an EU member and thus not in direct control of its trade policy. The four other EFTA states, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, will not want to enter arduous negotiations for a deal that will likely last just a few years time. Any serious attempts made to rejoin EFTA will have to be conducted in a manner which affirms a desire for the European Free Trade Association to be a longstanding and more or less permanent home for the UK. Otherwise, there simply won't be the political will required for successful and productive negotiations. 

It is also worth adding that Britain will need to accommodate and sync 27 existing EFTA FTAs with 38 different countries into its trade remit. I know very little about Free Trade Agreements but most careful thought will lead one to the conclusion that this may present difficulty. It will also be cited by Remainers as evidence that in leaving the EU we are actually relinquishing control, in that we will be adopting trade terms that we played no role in creating. My point is: why bother with all this if we aren't in it for the long haul. Writing yesterday, I was under the assumption that, since the UK had acceded to the European Union directly from EFTA in 1973, all it had to do was reverse the process and slot back into the EFTA EEA. But this was clearly too simplistic a notion. 

My view, though, is unchanged by this. EFTA is great mainly because it offers the economic safety of single market access coupled with avoidance of ever closer union and the salvaging of vital sovereignty. It is democratically superior to our current political stance in Europe. 

Regardless, I apologise for the error and will not make it again. 


  1. Why on earth apologise? Pete North is not a commanding authority, he's the Mini-Me of a Dr. with a papal infallibility complex.

    There is no set procedure to join EFTA. If all members agree then they can make it as quick or slow as they like.

    New EFTA members don't have to adopt existing EFTA treaties; they just have to apply to have FTAs with the countries EFTA has signed FTAs with. They can negotiate terms directly with these partners.

    As for it being inconceivable that anyone would undertake negotiations for a short-term deal...

    1960: UK sets up EFTA
    1961: UK applies to leave EFTA and join EEC.

    1. As per Article 56 of the EFTA convention, indeed. Problem with your 1960/61 analogy is that EFTA has evolved somewhat and existing FTAs will have to be harmonised into U.K trade policy. This complicates things and makes short termism a little more aggy for everyone:

    2. Any FTAs would only be taken into account when we sign them. We would have no obligation to agree to any particular term in EFTA's existing FTAs.

      North's assertion of five years is absolutely retrieved from his pungent netherworld. He just needs to assert very long timescales to support his soul-sapping dream of changing from technocrats in Brussels setting the rules to technocrats in Geneva setting the rules.

    3. Anonymous thats so perfectly put, and I'm entirely in agreement about Norths so called exit "plan" all he's doing is moving the locus of power from one European city to another, the mans a total fool if he thinks this will get the UK out of the EU