If You’re Looking For A Commonsense Brexit That Strikes A Balance Between Prosperity And Sovereignty The EEA is The Only Game In Town

In the House I called for an EEA based Brexit, a deal that builds on the architecture of the EEA for deal that can reunite Britain, satisfying both Leave and Remain voters. In the EEA-EFTA model, we have the answer to protecting market access, jobs and opportunities; to a friction-less border in Northern Ireland; and to the call to take back control on immigration, in our courts and in this place.

If we are looking for a common-sense Brexit that strikes a pragmatic balance between prosperity and sovereignty, the EEA is the only game in town. It will allow maximum access to the single market, with the ability to reform free movement, resolve the Northern Ireland issue, end the jurisdiction of the ECJ and, above all, reunite our deeply divided country.

Stephen Kinnock: On 23 June 2016, the people of this country voted to leave, as did a majority of my constituents. The result was won on a narrow margin, but the result was clear, which is why I voted to trigger article 50. However, when we triggered article 50, I argued that we needed a Brexit deal that reflected the narrow margin and would bring leave and remain voters together. That is why I argued then, as I am arguing now, for an EEA-based Brexit. I will say a little more about that later.

Barely a year after that referendum, the Prime Minister called an election in which she hoped to secure a mandate for a hard Brexit, but the British people said no, so the Prime Minister saw her majority disappear. Any sensible Government would at that point have accepted and committed themselves to a sensible Brexit—one that could bridge the divide—recognising that compromises must be made if we are to secure a mutually beneficial deal from this process.

As Michel Barnier’s famous escalator slide makes clear, the Prime Minister’s red lines leave us with little choice but a Canada-based free trade arrangement. However, a Canada-based deal is about as much use as a chocolate teapot: it fails to cover services, which account for 80% of the British economy; it does nothing to resolve the issues regarding our relationship with EU agencies, just under half of which have no provision whatsoever for third-party country participation; and it leads inexorably to a hard border in Ireland.

I am sure that the Government toadies and Brextremists on the Back Benches are going to repeat ad nauseam the Prime Minister’s line about a bespoke deal, saying that all deals involve cherry-picking and so on. To do so, fundamentally misunderstands not only this process, but that of all trade negotiations, because the fact is that all trade deals are a blend of off-the-shelf and bespoke elements. The Brexit negotiations are, first, about deciding on the foundations, and the foundations have to be based on a basic template, whether an EEA, FTA or association model. Once we have agreement on the foundations, we can then move on to an argument about the doors, windows and roof of the house.​

It is clear that the fundamental problem with the Government’s approach to these negotiations has been an inability to accept that we must agree such a foundational model or template as the basis for the negotiations. It is absolutely unforgivable that, just over a week from the EU agreeing the guidelines for the future relationship phase of our negotiations, the Government are still talking about all of the things that they might do—rather blue sky, vague and sufficiently inoffensive things so as not to alienate any wing of the Conservative party. That is a profound abdication of duty and responsibility on the part of the Government, because it has left a vacuum and allowed the EU to define our destiny for us.

Ever since the referendum, we have been on the back foot because the Government have utterly failed to define the terms of the debate. That leads us, inexorably and ultimately—I hope—towards the conclusion that we need an exit on the basis of an EEA-EFTA deal. A Brexit on an EEA-EFTA basis—with a customs union provision building on the protocol 10 precedent, or seeking something deeper—could provide the overarching framework for a deal that is not only achievable, but desirable for both leave and remain voters.

Moreover, an EEA-based Brexit could navigate a path around the Government’s red lines, because the EEA is not the same as the single market and must not be conflated with it. The EEA is an internal market covering much, but not all, of the single market and three of the four EFTA states. The EEA excludes fisheries and agriculture, but the key point is that the EEA is predicated on a fundamentally different legal and political purpose to that of the single market. While the EU single market is predicated on the treaty of the European Union, with its aim of “ever closer union”, the EEA internal market is based on the EEA agreement, the purpose of which is

“to promote a continuous and balanced strengthening of trade and economic relations between the contracting parties”.

The fact is that the EEA is, in essence, a reversion to the European Community, based on the terms of the Single European Act 1986.

Moreover, articles 112 and 113 of the EEA agreement allow for the reform of any of the four freedoms, including the free movement of people. That has, in fact, already been done: the protocol 15 precedent enshrines a quota-based system in Lichtenstein, and it would have been available to the Swiss had they voted to join the EEA back in 1992. It would, therefore, be a lever at our disposal should we wish to join the EEA.

The EEA meets another red line, namely that of ending the jurisdiction of the ECJ. The EEA is overseen by the EFTA arbitration court, which, with UK membership, would have a plurality of UK judges. The EFTA court regularly rules in a different manner from the ECJ and frequently sets precedents that are later followed by the ECJ.

In the EEA, this House would be wholly sovereign. We would see an end to direct effect, and through the right of reservation we would possess a veto on EEA rules. What is more, EEA members have considerable rule-shaping powers through the various committees of the EU, and retain an influence on the EU position at the WTO, at which the UK possesses our own seat at the table.

Vicky Ford: The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case about the EEA and EFTA, although it is unfortunate that he described the Canada deal as a chocolate teapot, because it did give free trade in chocolate.

Mr Deputy Speaker : Order. This is meant to be a quick intervention—

Vicky Ford: Quickly—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. There is no “quickly” about it, because you will need to explain to the Front Benchers when I cut their contributions down to eight minutes each. It is an intervention, not a speech. I call Stephen Kinnock.

Stephen Kinnock: In short, if we are looking for a common-sense Brexit that strikes a pragmatic balance between prosperity and sovereignty, the EEA is the only game in town. It will allow maximum access to the single market, with the ability to reform free movement, resolve the Northern Ireland issue, end the jurisdiction of the ECJ and, above all, reunite our deeply divided country.

Vicky Ford: The problem with the EEA is that we would have to cut and paste all EU rules, especially on key sectors such as financial services. Would it not be better to fight for a bespoke deal?

Stephen Kinnock: As I have said, it has to be a blend of a template and a bespoke deal. The Government have fundamentally failed to understand that, first of all, these negotiations must create common ground—a territory based on models and templates that are familiar to both sides at the negotiating table. Of course, things can then be tweaked and finessed, but the basic model of the EEA gives us the architecture and certainty for which the country is so desperately crying out. That approach would also have put the British Government on the front foot, rather than leaving a vacuum into which the EU has been obliged to step.

The referendum exposed many of the deep divisions that have existed in our country for many years—divisions between young and old, town and city, graduate and non-graduate. Those divisions came together as we coalesced behind “tribe remain” or “tribe leave”. We must not allow the tribalism of the referendum to define our destiny. We must come together. We must find a way to reunite this country, find compromise between remain and leave, and place that compromise at the heart of our negotiating strategy. In the EEA-EFTA model, we have the answer to protecting market access, jobs and opportunities; to a frictionless border in Northern Ireland; and to the call to take back control on immigration, in our courts and in this place. Let us come together, reunite Britain and build an EEA-based Brexit.