I have given a platform to EFTA4UK to make their case in a guest blog for compromise and a “Smart Brexit”. Graham Reid, Coordinator of EFTA4UK, writes:
In the wide spectrum of views about the European Union, it is fair to say that we at EFTA4UK are firmly in the middle.
We don’t think that the UK should remain in the EU and even join the Euro as some EU-enthusiasts do, but neither do we think the EU is the work of the devil or some NWO conspiracy to take over the continent. We simply believe that the EU is not right for the UK and we should explore other options.
For years, a small but tireless group of journalists, activists and bloggers such as the author Christopher Booker, Roland Smith of the Adam Smith Institute, Hugo Van Randwyck and Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group, Doctor Richard North (and son) have investigated these options.
Separately they have all arrived at the conclusion that the UK would be better off out of the EU, but not ‘going it alone’ – rather we should apply to rejoin the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) which the UK helped to create in the 1960s.
For many years, these ‘soft’ or ‘smart’ Brexiteer’s voices were largely ignored by politicians and media alike. Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, these ideas are being reconsidered by a wider audience. EFTA4UK works to promote these ideas.
While some EU enthusiasts are now seriously looking at EFTA, they still see it as a consolation prize. We take a different view – the EFTA countries have actually got a better deal than the EU member states have. Our most recent report explains this in detail, but below we explain a few of the key issues.
While they co-operate with other European countries and largely enjoy the ‘four freedoms’ – free movement of capital, labour, services and goods; the EFTA states do things slightly differently.
Firstly, in terms of cost, the EFTA alternative(s) are cheaper than EU membership. According to a House of Commons Library report:
“If the UK left the EU and instead contributed to the EU budget on the same basis as Norway, its contributions would fall by around 17%. EEA countries and Switzerland contribute to the costs of EU programmes in which they participate, and to programmes to reduce economic and social disparities within the Union. Norway, an EEA country, contributed around £106 per capita in 2011, while Switzerland contributes around £53 per capita. These figures are respectively 17% and 60% less than the UK’s per capita contribution of £128 in 2011.”
Even taking into account the cost of co-operating in schemes such as Erasmus and reciprocal Healthcare programmes like EHIC, the UK should still see substantial savings each year, amounting to billions of pounds per annum.
In his 2012 book ‘Au Revoir Europe’ (pg 205) David Charter (former European Correspondent of The Times) stated:
“If it can be inferred from this that the gross cost to the UK of a similar arrangement to Switzerland’s would be around one-eighth of Britain’s current £15 billion gross contribution, the annual cost would be £1.9 billion”
In his 2014 book ‘Europe: in or out?’ (pg 106) David Charter revisits this issue, stating that:
“Various attempts have been made to estimate the amount that Britain would be obliged to pay towards projects in the EU’s poorer states in return for continued access to the Single Market or Swiss-style bilateral trading conditions. In 2006, the Swiss Government estimated that EEA membership would cost 32 per cent more, while full EU membership could cost six times as much, after receipts from Brussels, based on a gross contribution increase of 786 per cent.
If it can be inferred from this that the UK would pay one-eighth of its overall fee to return to the EFTA relationship used by Switzerland, then the 2013 gross charge of £17.2 billion would be reduced to £2.15 billion, while the price of staying in the Single Market through the EEA would be about £2.8 billion a year.”
A multi-billion per annum drop in contributions would be a nice boost to the UK, although a large portion of this would still need to be spent in the UK in a similar way to how it is now – but crucially without EU direction or oversight.
Migration is also a key topic. In 2004, former Prime Minister Tony Blair chose not to impose transitional controls on the citizens of the new EU member states.
As a result of opening the British labour market to people from the new EU states seven years before any other big EU member, more than 1 million people came after 2004.
As EU commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stated:
“In 2004, the U.K. did not use the transitional periods that would have allowed it to phase in the right of free movement of the citizens of eight new member states. As a result, over the past decade the U.K. attracted a record number of mobile EU citizens.”
It is arguably this rapid inflow of people (and the government’s apparent inability to regulate it) which made many members of the UK public discontented with the European Union.
The current EFTA states also have their own version of ‘Freedom of Movement’ (FoM) but with crucial differences however.
In addition, there are small but distinct legal differences between EEA freedom of movement and EU freedom of movement, since the former is based around free movement of workers/labour whereas the latter is based around the principle of free movement of people/citizens.
The concept of Union Citizenship as introduced by the Treaty of Maastrict has no direct equivalent in the EEA Agreement.
In summary then, the UK in EFTA could benefit from FoM, but have an enhanced toolkit to control migratory flows.
In terms of sovereignty, critics argue that if we leave and join EFTA we will still “have to obey EU rules”. That’s a half-truth.
The EFTA states are exempt from most of the contentious EU policy areas, such as:
• Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies
• Customs Union
• Common Trade Policy
• Common Foreign and Security Policy
• Justice and Home Affairs
• Monetary Union (EMU)
The areas in which the EU does have control are largely those to do with the single market, product standards and regulations. In many cases these rules are simply European interpretations of standards agreed at regional or global standard-setting bodies.
Leaving the EU means the UK would have greater influence on global and regional bodies, as our vote and voice would not be constrained by Article 34 of the EU treaties and the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).
A notable example of this is the World Trade Organisation or WTO. Norway and Switzerland speak for themselves there, while the EU trade commissioner speaks for the UK on this body.
This destroys the argument that leaving the EU would take away our voice at the “top table” – in fact it would restore our place there. And with the combined influence of UK and the existing EFTA states, EFTA would have even greater clout in negotiations with the EU going forward.
If the UK leaves the EU with no trade deal in place, it will have no current trade deal with any country in the world. The EFTA States have 27 free trade agreements (covering 38 countries) – an enviable trade portfolio that we could participate in by rejoining.
Unlike the EU, EFTA has a unique ‘two-track’ trade deal system. EFTA’s negotiators work to negotiate trade deals for the bloc as a whole, while allowing member states to negotiate their own bespoke trade deals. An example of this is that all of EFTA has a trade deal with Hong Kong, but EFTA member Switzerland has a separate trade deal with China.
That is the case for EFTA membership!