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George Eustice: The EEA is the missing piece of the Brexit jigsaw

George Eustice is MP for Camborne, Redruth & Hayle, and is a former Minister of State at DEFRA.

The tide is rapidly going out on Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, and it is probably already dead. The EU have said they won’t make any substantive changes, and it is unacceptable to the UK in its current form.

Although the focus has been on the backstop, there are other problems too. The Implementation Period implements nothing and is effectively a state of limbo. As time wears on, the logic for it gets ever weaker.

As early as next spring, ministers would start having to consider whether to exercise an option in July to extend this state of limbo or to resign themselves to the backstop. Even the Prime Minister said she didn’t want to have to exercise either of those options, but its hard to see how such a fate could be avoided.

The Alternative Arrangements Commission, chaired by Greg Hands and Nicky Morgan, last week published an incredibly comprehensive piece of work showing how things could be done in a better way without the need for a backstop. Time will tell whether that unblocks the situation.

However, if it doesn’t then we will have no alternative but to just leave first and talk afterwards. I resigned from the Government earlier this year because I thought it was a mistake to delay our departure. We were far better prepared for “no deal” than some pretended. Personally, I have voted against every extension and voted to embrace no deal at every opportunity presented.

But I have also been far more willing than most to compromise, because many in Parliament are far more nervous of change. We have to try to reach an accommodation with them, because it’s hard to get anything done unless Parliament at least acquiesces to it, as the opportunistic amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill this week demonstrated. So the real problem is not that “no deal” would be catastrophic (it wouldn’t be) but that Parliament would stand in the way.

Boris Johnson has said that we must rule nothing out and keep all options open, and I think he is right. The next Prime Minister has a difficult course to navigate to get us out of the EU by the end of October without the current deal. We will need agility and a willingness to think outside the box. Some have suggested that we could rely on article 24 of GATT as part of a managed “no deal” to keep a stand-still in preferential trade but others, such as Liam Fox, have poured cold water on the idea, claiming you need an agreement for it to work.

The compromise I have advocated is that we rely on our existing treaty rights as a signatory to the EEA and simply rejoin the EFTA pillar, and use that as an exit mechanism.

The EU is obsessed by treaties, and they understand rights where they exist. It would be a faster solution with no need for any implementation period. Relying on existing rights avoids getting stuck in the morass of a protracted EU negotiation. We would be outside the Customs Union with an independent trade policy, but would have a ready-made free trade agreement. We would have full control of agriculture and fisheries, the 1972 European Communities Act would be repealed, and we would be an independent country again.

If we didn’t like the agreement and wanted to step away even further, then we could quit the EEA at any time with just twelve months notice in writing. No need to worry about whether some backstop is time-limited, or has a good-faith clause, or whether we could have a protocol or a codicil. Just give notice in a letter. On virtually every measure the EEA is a superior option to the Withdrawal Agreement that May finally negotiated.

I was not the first to suggest an EEA or EFTA exit mechanism. The late Christopher Booker, who sadly passed away recently, dedicated most of his journalistic career at the Telegraph to campaigning against the monstrosity that is the European Union.

He was uncompromising in believing we should leave, but he was also probably the first to declare that we should use the EEA as an exit mechanism, for tactical reasons, and he did so within weeks of the 2016 referendum result. His prescient argument was that we would be ground down by EU negotiators if we started with a blank sheet of paper. Richard North, another long-standing campaigner with impeccable Brexit credentials also advocated it, as did Dan Hannan MEP, who throughout his career has been one of the most thoughtful but principled campaigners against the EU.

Then from the other side of the political spectrum there is Lord Owen, who campaigned against the euro, campaigned to leave the EU, and has considerable experience of international diplomacy. Too many people on both sides of the argument have been too ready to dismiss the counsel of such long-standing eurosceptics without giving it proper consideration.

On the current debate about the scope of article 24 of GATT, maybe our existing EEA membership is the missing part of the jigsaw? We could leave at the end of October without May’s Withdrawal Agreement but, instead, rely on our existing legal rights under the EEA as a starting point. That then gives us an existing agreement which addresses the Trade Secretary’s legal concerns and enables article 24 of GATT to be relied upon after all.

All tariff rates could then stay the same while we build a new Free Trade Agreement out of the one we already have. We leave on time but in an orderly way, with the consent of Parliament, and in a way that would not fetter our future independence in any way at all.

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Andy Maciver: Scotland, Johnson – and his standing there. As his leadership prospects improve, Scots Tories are mulling going it alone.

Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters, and a former Scottish Conservative Head of Communications.

Ruth Davidson’s back. A sprightly interview with the BBC on Monday laid the foundation for the territory she wants to occupy over the next two years until the 2021 elections to the Scottish Parliament – a second Scottish independence referendum.

Her line on it – that the people don’t want one and I’m the people’s human shield to stop it – is tried, tested and successful. She is the undisputed Queen of the Union, and her iron grip on that throne at the expense of Labour is what doubled her representation at Holyrood in 2016, and delivered the 13 MPs in 2017, without whom Theresa May would not have re-entered Downing Street.

Whether her “not now, not ever” line will hold if the SNP gets a newer, stronger mandate in 2021 (spoiler alert – the line won’t hold), and whether it’s good medium- to long-term strategy for the Tories to be the party which continually says no to Scotland’s democratically elected government (spoiler alert – it’s not) is for another article.

For this piece is not about the issue that Davidson does want to discuss – namely, independence. It’s about the issue she doesn’t – Brexit – and the severe consequences it brings for the Scottish party.

The principle of Brexit has proven to be less of a problem for the Scottish party than some had thought it would. For sure, Scotland is a Remain country, but 38 per cent (the Leave vote) is a million people for the Tories to target, and polling both for independence and for voting intention remained largely unchanged until recently.  Indeed, a stronger, coordinated push by the 13 Conservative MPs for an EFTA/EEA outcome could have been a rocket-boost for Tory fortunes north of the Border.

But, even as it is, the principle of Brexit is manageable. However, Davidson returned this week to mounting evidence that the practical consequences of Brexit are not. There are three such consequences.

First, it is entirely possible that the Scottish Tories will lose the single Scottish MEP seat they currently hold in the coming European elections. So what would that matter, right: after all, MEPS will only be in a job for a few months and nobody pays any attention to them anyway? Sure – but getting people out of the habit of voting Tory, when they’ve just started to get back into it, is a momentum-killer.

Second, whilst Scottish Conservative polling had held relatively firm in the mid- to high-20s for around three years, it has now taken a decisive dip, mirroring the drop in UK-wide Tory polling since the Prime Minister announced the long Brexit delay. The latest poll – YouGov had them at 20 per cent last week – was bordering on a return to the pre-2014 norm.

But those consequences are the undercard to the showstopping main event, featuring Boris Johnson. When Davidson went on maternity leave in the autumn, Johnson was approaching busted-flush status, with a low expectation of him making it to the final two in any leadership contest. But she returns amidst the failure to deliver Brexit, and the perceived need to tackle the re-birth of Nigel Farage, which have propelled Johnson to the status of favourite once again.

Readers may recall a series of briefings last year code-named “Operation Arse” – this was the Scottish Tory-led ‘Stop Boris’ campaign. It was widely known that this was based on a combination of internal polling and Davidson’s own disdain for Johnson.  That polling was never released: however, I understand the numbers to have been so severe that they incited jaw-dropping astonishment and effectively put the Scottish party on a crisis management footing.

Johnson was shown to be unpopular across all Tory voters – the core, 2016 switchers and 2017 switchers. He was the least popular of all leadership candidates. His favourability, I understand, was around -40. May, at the time (although it will inevitably have dipped) was +40, and Davidson +80.  He was as unpopular in Scotland as Jeremy Corbyn.

The backdrop to this was the party’s polling and focus group evidence telling them that they had a chance of being the largest party in 2021 (I have never thought this is achievable but that is hardly the point).  Those Johnson numbers are not just acting as a bump in the road towards this outcome; they point to an end to that road.

This is why, as the Scottish party heads into its spring conference this weekend, talk of separating the Scottish party from the UK party is firmly back on the agenda. This proposal came to prominence in 2011, when Murdo Fraser’s leadership campaign was based on the platform of creating a new party (full disclosure – I helped).

As far as I’m aware, none of its original supporters (let’s call them the 2011 Team) have changed their minds. One can see why. Ruth Davidson is Scotland’s most popular leader, persistently out-polling Nicola Sturgeon over the last couple of years, and just last week recording a net positive rating of +10 compared to the First Minister’s +1 and the Prime Minister’s -58.

And yet, despite that, the First Minister’s party remains soaring at over 40 per cent, with Ruth Davidson’s unable to even reach its fingertips to a number starting with a 3, and now ostensibly struggling to hold on to a number starting with a 2. Does nobody ask why? Does nobody ask what is stopping people voting for the person they like the most?

Outside the bunker, the answer is slapping us across the face, and no more so than this week as we see, yet again, the harsh winds from London blowing the Scottish polling off course. ‘Twas ever thus. The 2011 Team knows that this will ebb and flow, but it will never fundamentally change. The ties are too strong.

But the 2011 Team are no longer the only advocates of a separate party. They have been joined by, let’s call them, the 2019 Team. These are people who are unsupportive of the principle of a separate party, but believe that it may be the only practical way to stop what they regard as a catastrophic, perhaps existential threat posed to the Scottish party by a Boris Johnson leadership.

The reticence in some quarters, not least in London in 2011, when the establishment moved mountains to prevent Fraser winning, is a puzzle. With hindsight, I think those of us involved with Fraser in 2011 must take some of the blame. The slogan was “A new party for Scotland” and, whilst that was the right message for the country, it was a frightening message for the party membership.

It was the right product, in the wrong packaging. Instead, we should have looked to the past rather than the future (we did mention it, but it wasn’t the central plank). Because the reality is that what Fraser was arguing for was a return to the pre-1965 structure, when the Scottish party was separate (and more successful).

In truth, the centralisation of the party from 1965 until now should be seen as a historical blip; as an experiment gone wrong. This would not be a leap in the dark. It would be a return to the party’s roots.

This idea returns, from time to time, because it contains an inevitability. It will never die. It will happen, because it is so blindingly obvious that it should. Scotland created a new parliament and a new voting system and dumped the old party structure on it, with a sprinkle of nationalism on top. It had no right to work, and it hasn’t. The pro-union parties are structurally unable to adapt to changes in public opinion and are forced into the negative end of a binary debate.

Unionism and centralism are not the same thing. Observe Canada, our closest peer in this respect, which has provincial parties for provincial parliaments and national parties for the national parliament. And is at next-to-no risk of separation.

The centre-right can win in Scotland. But the Conservatives can’t.  As a party grandee told us when endorsing Fraser in 2011 “you’ll lose this time, but the beans will never go back in the tin”.

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Philip Booth: It’s time to remember that there’s more to politics than Brexit

Philip Booth is Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. He is also Senior Academic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

The old joke “Why did the chicken cross the road?” (“To get to the other side”) might have come out of some readers’ Christmas crackers. In fact, there is a serious point to that joke. The chicken can know of no higher purpose. There was no ultimate end: it just crossed the road to get to the other side. If the chicken were a person, getting to the other side would not have been a good enough reason for crossing the road in and of itself: there would have been some further, higher, end.

For those of us who have spent their lives not being very interested in the EU, these are not especially exciting times. We should remember that the Brexit debate is not an end in itself. The different protagonists in the debate within the Conservative Party have generally not taken that position. If you believe in limited government and free trade, perfectly rational positions can be and have been created to support an EEA position, free-trade deals, No Deal or Remain. I struggle to understand the rationale of the deal that the Prime Minister has brought back to us, but won’t get into that debate today.

Of course, the EU is not just about economics. But, when it comes to economics, those who believe in a free economy and free trade cannot allow the Brexit debate to act as an alternative for making the wider case for capitalism. We cannot put the making of the wider case for limited government on hold. Those who believe in a bigger state have certainly not stopped making their arguments.

On the whole, socialists like to try to take the moral high ground. They are effective in building narratives around people’s own problems or aspirations: Conservatives are not always good at this and the Brexit debate has certainly not helped. The recent visit to the UK by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston illustrates these points very well.

Those who believe in a free economy need to argue their case as if they really believe that free markets and sound institutions are matters of life and death for the poorest people in the world.

An excellent book by Rainer Zitelmann, The Power of Capitalism, makes some of these arguments forcefully. The opening chapter on China is shocking in its portrayal of the poverty of the Mao regime – 33 million people died in just four years to 1962. However imperfect and incomplete the move towards markets, the Chinese transition has ensured that most of the country’s people are now no longer one bad harvest away from starvation. The relationship between the institutions of capitalism and the poor being in a position where they can escape a life of drudgery or disease and famine is indisputable. It can be seen across countries and through time.

And yet the basic facts about the benefits of markets and the abject failure of socialism are more or less unknown here at home. Students, potential voters and those who frame the policy debates seem to have no clue about how globalisation has improved the lot of the poor. Indeed, they do not even understand that the lot of the poor has improved. In a recent Ipsos-Mori poll, 91 per cent of British respondents believed that the proportion of people living in absolute poverty had increased or remained about the same in recent decades. The reality is that the proportion has fallen more in the last three decades than in the whole of previous economic history put together.

Reports from Oxfam and many other organisations suggest that inequality is on the increase and this is the prevailing narrative (bizarrely echoed by people such as Mark Carney). I suspect that, if a poll were taken on whether people believed that global inequality was increasing or decreasing, the proportion believing it was decreasing would not get out of single figures – or perhaps it would be zero after rounding. Yet the last 20 years mark the first sustained period in over two centuries during which global inequality is falling.

Unless economic globalisation reverses or the institutional situation in poorer countries deteriorates, this trend will continue. The West has an awful demographic outlook which will lead to lower disposable incomes as a result of higher taxes, as well as other problems. Meanwhile, the possibility for catch-up growth fuelled by young populations with growing human capital should allow poorer countries to continue to grow rapidly.

We should take none of this for granted. It is essential that the public does not come to believe that those politicians who broadly support a free economy have become obsessed by Brexit. If you were to put the faces of publicly-known politicians before people in an opinion poll and ask the question: “which of these people support policies that will raise incomes for the very poorest and reduce global inequality?”, I suspect that not many would nominate those politicians whom we know support free markets. That needs to change. It is not as if the statistics or the messages are especially complicated. Brexit should not be like the chicken crossing the road. The broader purpose of government should never be forgotten. We cannot have a moratorium on making the case for limited government and free markets or a couple of years whilst we deal with Brexit.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com