Why won’t other options work?
Naturally, there are many other options that are still being discussed for how the UK can depart from the EU. Here we outline the main suggestions.
The White Paper
The proposal in the Government’s White Paper is still the Government’s official plan for our relationship with the EU. Despite the Prime Minister’s previous assurance that Brexit would mean taking back control of laws, money and borders (which the no deal scenario allows), and that our regulations themselves would not be aligned with the EU, the White Paper fails to do this, and proposes a ‘common rulebook’ for harmonisation of UK regulation with the EU.
Officially this is only in the areas of goods and agri-food, but despite what the Government has claimed, this is not possible, because the UK would be forced to harmonise its regulations with related single market regulation on services as well. This will mean EU rules on how all our goods are made, and in related areas like environment and employment. Many good are integrated with services and it is not clear whether they will be covered by sufficient arrangements.
The White Paper will also prevent the UK signing advanced trade deals. Countries need to be able to control their regulation for leverage in negotiations: because we may need the other party’s regulations altered to allow in our goods or services, we need control over ours to do the same. This is why the US Ambassador to London has stated that a free trade deal with the US is now ‘up in the air’; experts from Canada, Australia and New Zealand have said the same.
European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and European Economic Area (EEA)
Another proposal is that the UK become a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). But EFTA membership alone would not give trade access to the single market as it applies only to trade between its members. This is done through the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement between some EFTA states and the EU. Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are signatories. The other member, Switzerland, has a different arrangement (below).
The EEA Agreement requires the EFTA EEA members to implement all single market legislation, including free movement of workers and financial services regulation, without having a vote on it. It also includes the EFTA Court, which resolves disputes. The Agreement requires the Court to follow the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as to the interpretation and application of EU laws incorporated into the EEA Agreement. The European Commission meanwhile wants this Court strengthened, to function as a mirror to EU authorities.
The Swiss model
Switzerland is a member of EFTA, but has not joined the EEA Agreement, with its own bilateral EU agreements instead. However, this also requires it to adopt parts of the EU rulebook, while the Swiss have also committed to freedom of movement, and Schengen membership. Furthermore, the Swiss must make continuing financial contributions to ‘economic and social cohesion’ in the EU.