I have just read an interesting piece by Lord Hague of Richmond (William Hague) in the Daily Telegraph defending the Prime Minister and her handling of the negotiations over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. Lord Hague describes how the Conservative Party is stretched to the limit over our relationship with the EU which is hardly a surprise to those of us that follow politics. I take a vicarious enjoyment from this in that the party that took us in to the European Union is the party with the most troubled conscience over it, karma I say.
During the referendum Lord Hague campaigned for us to stay in the European Union and I see little that suggests he has changed his mind; however he has been consistent in respecting the outcome of the vote so I respect his views and acknowledge his democratic credentials so I am prepared to listen to what he has to say.
He rightly identifies the struggle the Prime Minister faces in keeping her party together, the need to keep the Democratic Unionists on board and the seemingly intractable problem of the border in Northern Ireland. Whether by design or poor strategy the Prime Minister has created a situation where the negotiations have moved to a point where we either defend the Union or we accept that part of it remains under EU jurisdiction.
There is of course an argument to throw Northern Ireland under a bus, not sensible in my view but it is an argument – George Galloway has already suggested just that in terms of the need for the unification of the island of Ireland. In isolation it is a valid argument but would strengthen the case of the Scottish Nationalists who see remaining in the EU as their route to independence (I know – lets not do that one right now). In any case I don’t think any Prime Minister wants to go down in history as the one that broke up the Union. For the sake of brevity, right now that dog don’t hunt, the Union has to stay intact – at least for now.
My take on Lord Hague’s intervention is that the shrewder Remainers have made the calculation that if the final months of our membership of the EU reach a point where all the discussion is about protecting the Union and negotiating a deal with the EU takes a back seat then we create the conditions for leaving the EU in the Spring of next year without a deal – the so called Hard Brexit.
Many of my fellow Brexiteers are strongly in favour of a Hard Brexit, I am not one of those and cards on the table here I have long been an advocate of Dr North’s Flexcit plan:
For the purpose of this blog it means invoking Article 50 and dropping into the EEA / EFTA arrangements for a number of years to allow us to catch our breath and prepare for full independence. I won’t go into lengthy details about Flexcit (the plan is over 400 pages long) but I will attempt to summarise why I favour this option.
The notion that any nation is completely sovereign is not an accurate characterisation of the modern world. Even China signs up to international agreements that take certain decisions out of their hands, this is not a bad thing when we consider the good regulations that come from international bodies, for example last year the aviation industry had the safest year ever courtesy of international co-operation. The key difference here is that intergovernmental agreements tend to be transparent and come with accountability. The EU operates a supranational model where decision making is opaque and there is little visibility of the people that exert control over our lives- even in Communist China people know who their leaders are. Put as simplistically as I can the EEA is more of an intergovernmental arrangement – unlike the EU. In general terms the EFTA pillar of the EEA allows us to participate in the single market, negotiate trade deals, frees us from the European Court of Justice and allows a better degree of control over immigration since it reverts back to free movement of labour not free movement of people – i.e. you can’t come here just to sign on. There are a number of models of the EEA / ETA arrangements, my preference would be the Norway model. I feel I must re-emphasise I see the Norway model as a fairly pain free stepping stone to independence not a final destination.
What struck me about Lord Hague’s piece was that for the first time I have heard a senior Tory float the idea of EFTA arrangements. Whilst this is a good thing in my view I am irritated by his sudden realisation. It was because of Remainers like Lord Hague who insisted on telling people if we left the EU we would lose access to the single market and it was Remainers and their knuckle headed Project Fear that prevented this option for Brexit getting the consideration it was due.
More worryingly, Lord Hague mentioned in passing that Parliament could block any attempt to leave the EU without a deal. I am certain that is exactly what will happen, I am certain that any attempt at a Hard Brexit will ultimately fail – not because of the will of the people but because it provides exactly the excuse our political class need to prevent our country leaving the EU. Of course this will be dressed up as acting in the national interest.
Hopefully I have managed to convince some of you to have a deep think about the Norway option, it may not be exactly the Brexit you wanted but please do think deeply about what I have said. The Hard Brexit many of you wish to see will in my view achieve the exact opposite, your argument does not have the Parliamentary arithmetic on its side, mine probably does. Think about it, I implore you, put emotion to one side and really, really think about it, we only get one shot at this.