In my speech in the Chamber yesterday, I set out why an EEA-based Brexit is the only viable option: it balances sovereignty and prosperity, reforms free movement, and is ready-made model that would re-unite our deeply divided country. I've been banging this drum for 18 months and I'll keep going!
The message the public sent to us at the ballot box in June 2016 was clear: we must leave the European Union. But a 52:48 vote was not a vote for an inadequate Canada-style trade deal that does nothing for the services industry or the Irish border, and it certainly was not a vote to send the country over a no-deal cliff edge, tumbling towards the anti-worker, anti-growth, economy-crippling hard Brexit of the Tory right. We cannot risk this Government turning us into a European version of the Cayman Islands.
That is why I have been arguing for over 18 months for an EEA-based Brexit, in which we would not only retain a very high degree of access to the single market but substantially increase our control over our laws and our borders. EEA countries are not subject to the supremacy of EU law, nor do they fall under the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. EEA countries can shape legislation through consultation with the EU Commission and have the power to block new single market rules. Moreover, Michel Barnier has made it crystal clear that EEA plus customs union is a perfectly viable and realistic option.
The EEA agreement also offers the suspension and reform of the free movement of labour. Articles 112 and 113 of the agreement are safeguard clauses that would offer significantly greater control over our borders and labour market. We should compare and contrast that solid treaty-based mechanism with the more open-ended framing of the Labour Front-Bench amendment, which makes no mention at all of free movement. The fact is that when it comes to free movement, our Front-Bench amendment is less clear and less tangible than the EEA option.
The overarching purpose of the EEA is
“to promote a continuous and balanced strengthening of trade and economic relations”.
That is very different from the overarching purpose of the EU, which is to form an ever closer union. An EEA Brexit would therefore take us back to the origins of the European economic area, an agreement based on mutually beneficial trade rather than on political union.
If there is one lesson to learn from these Brexit negotiations, it is that the EU operates on the basis of rules, laws, models, treaties and legal precedents. By committing to the EEA, Britain would be joining a set of institutions that for 25 years has helped deliver frictionless trade between the EU and the EEA-EFTA countries, while also protecting those countries’ interests.
I therefore urge Members on both sides of the House to join me in showing their backing for an EEA-based Brexit that strikes the right balance between prosperity and sovereignty. It is the only form of Brexit that can have a hope of reuniting our deeply divided country.