UK must apply to join EFTA immediately

I’m going to let you all into a secret. I don’t dislike David Davis. I do have a problem with him, however, beyond a difference of opinion over Brexit.

Where the Foreign Secretary blatantly takes position merely to further his personal interests and the Trade Secretary engages in pure delusion about the state of the world, David Davis at least appears to be following a logical path from his own past positions (even if one almost inevitable consequence is ID cards, which he once resigned from Parliament to oppose).

The problem is that we have this peculiar notion that people who are capable of getting selected for and then winning a parliamentary seat (a particular set of skills) also make good negotiators (a quite different set of skills). Putting politicians in charge of actual negotiations (rather than establishing desirable directions for them) is, therefore, quite crazy.

And it is evident Mr Davis is not a negotiator. That is my problem with him, beyond his support for policies I believe are profoundly damaging (but to which he is entitled in a democracy). For over a year now, Mr Davis has been “negotiating” and even his own side’s position remains entirely unclear. He is obviously hopeless at this, and therefore shouldn’t be doing it.

One obvious example is the quite astonishing failure to apply to join EFTA. This is the free trade alliance of which the UK was a member before it joined the EEC in the first place, and which would provide significant clarity on what its trade relationship with the EU would look like post-Brexit.

And here is the thing – merely applying does not mean the UK has to go through with it and join. But it would put the option clearly on the table, potentially to operate from April 2019, this giving the UK some leverage that it will not have to walk away with “no deal”. It would, at the very least, give the EU side something to work with in terms of a future trading relationship which could then be turned into workable solutions on other issues such as citizens’ rights and the Irish border.

It defies belief that the application has not been made at this late stage. It is basic negotiating strategy. The UK needs some negotiators!

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3 thoughts on “UK must apply to join EFTA immediately

  1. Dearg Doom says:

    The other EFTA countries do not want the UK, as it would then start bossing them around and would overturn EFTA.

    • That’s not what they’ve said thus far. Norway and Iceland have stated they would be keen for the UK to join.

      • J.H. says:

        I’ve seen mixed responses from various Norwegian government officials on that, so I wouldn’t say they would be keen for the UK to join.

        In any case, while they may be okay with the UK in EFTA, they might not be with the UK in the EEA (which May has ruled out anyway).

        Ultimately though it seems to matter little because the UK sleepwalked into Brexit and is now well on its way to sleepwalking into a chaotic, ultra-hard, cliff-edge/no deal Brexit. Applying for EFTA as a basic negotiating strategy (even as the basic move of keeping options open and preparing for them ahead of time) hasn’t occurred and won’t occur because the UK still has no clue what kind of relationship it really wants with the rest of the continent. From as far back as 2009 I remember both Tories and Labour spokesmen talking about changing EU rules to curb free movement. So the mentality of having everything about the single market except free movement of persons (i.e. cherry picking) was building up from then, and it will likely take at least a couple years for the British political class to wrap its head around what available models best suit its desires. In the meantime the UK is likely to wander in the wilderness that is no deal Brexit….probably for the better if it helps them come to a realization faster.

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