In 2005 I went to France to campaign in the referendum on the European Constitution, making the case for oui. One thing about that campaign has been with me ever since: it was clear what oui would mean (France would ratify) while it was never clear what non would mean. The diverse interpretations of non – from ‘stick with the Treaty of Nice’ via ‘we want a Social Europe instead’ to ‘we want to punish the government’ – meant that non was a responsibility-free shot at the establishment. The EU could have operated with the old treaties, so it’s not as if the non had a particularly high price.
Fast forward 6 years, and calls on left and right of UK politics are growing to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU – in or out. I’ve previously argued why Labour should not favour such a referendum and Nosemonkey has taken apart the People’s Pledge arguments.
This post raises a further issue that all ‘we want to leave’ advocates need to answer: what would leaving the EU actually mean? It’s not as simple as it sounds.
It strikes me that the yes answer to a question such as “Should the United Kingdom should remain a Member State of the European Union?” is simple enough – the relationship with the EU remains unchanged, and the UK fights its corner in the EU, winning some fights and losing some, just as it has since 1973.
But what would about no?
I pose this question with complete honesty – I really do not know the exact answer, and would like to hear opinions on this. Because without a definitive answer to this question, how could anyone realistically make up their mind in a referendum? Leaving the answer to this important issue until after a referendum would be irresponsible in the extreme, because even those arguing for withdrawal contend that the UK’s relationship with the EU is an matter of high importance.
Here – in rough terms – are three possible scenarios for how life could be for the UK outside, making the UK’s relationship with the EU similar to that of Norway, Switzerland or the USA, and I would be keen to hear thoughts on these.
If the UK were to have a relationship with the EU similar to Norway’s relationship today (in the EEA), this might be how it could look. The UK would be legally obliged to implement all aspects of EU law as applied to the Single Market, but not to agriculture and fisheries. The UK would have no say over those Single Market laws and would just be expected to implement them. The UK would contribute much less to the EU budget (Norway participates in some EU programmes, so pays a little) as it would not be part of the Common Agricultural Policy, but UK farmers would not receive CAP cash. This however would mean that tariffs would apply to export of UK agricultural goods to the EU. The UK would lose any say over EU foreign policy, and would receive no regional funds.
The Switzerland case (EFTA membership) is similar. Here the UK would not be legally obliged to apply EU law relating to the Single Market, and yet would – as in the Norway case – have tariff free access to the Single Market for everything except agriculture and fisheries. However the UK would be allowed to develop legislation applying to market issues that would be different to EU law (lower recycling standards for goods, or lower sanitary standards for foodstuffs for example). This could be argued to be an extension of democratic control in comparison to the Norway case, but would create non-tariff barriers to trade – manufacturers would have to make different versions of goods for the UK market and the EU market. It is worth noting that Switzerland implements all EU food law precisely to avoid this sort of thing. Agriculture and fisheries, and foreign policy and regional funds would be the same as the Norway case.
The USA case is the most extreme. Here the UK’s trade relationship with the EU would be regulated by international negotiations in the WTO, meaning that – within reason – the EU could impose tariffs on the export of goods and services from the UK to the EU, and the UK impose tariffs in return. Any market standards would be free to develop any way the UK government saw fit, but each development at odds with the EU Single Market would create non-tariff barriers. Importantly in such a case the automatic right of UK citizens to live and work in the EU, and EU citizens to live and work in the UK, would not be guaranteed. Agriculture and fisheries, and foreign policy and regional funds would be the same as the Norway case.
In short the Norway case would cause least disruption to trade, but is questionable in democratic terms – with no seat at the negotiation table in Brussels and a legal obligation to implement EU law this solution is even less democratic than current arrangements. The USA case is the opposite – a win for democracy, but a hit for the economy. The Switzerland case is a bit of both.
Which of these scenarios do those that advocate the UK leaving the EU actually want?
May 15, 2005 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution