Posted to Facebook on the 26th June, 2016 as two separate responses to a comment on this post. Edited for clarity.
What Is the European Economic Area?
Here’s exactly how the EEA works: http://www.efta.int/eea/eea-agreement/eea-basic-features
Essentially, we retain access to the common market, and in return we have to provide the Four Freedoms, “the free movement of goods, services, persons and capital, as well as competition and state aid rules, but also the following horizontal policies: consumer protection, company law, environment, social policy, statistics.”
“In addition, the EEA Agreement provides for cooperation in several flanking policies such as research and technological development, education, training and youth, employment, tourism, culture, civil protection, enterprise, entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprises.”
“The EEA Agreement does not cover the following EU policies: common agriculture and fisheries policies (although the EEA Agreement contains provisions on trade in agricultural and fish products); customs union; common trade policy; common foreign and security policy; justice and home affairs (the EEA EFTA States are however part of the Schengen area); direct and indirect taxation; or economic and monetary union.”
“The EEA Agreement ensures participation by the three EEA EFTA States in a number of EU programmes and agencies. Several others are under consideration or preparation for incorporation into the EEA Agreement. In addition, bilateral agreements with the EU ensure the participation by the individual EFTA States in several other EU agencies. The EFTA website provides a list of all EU programmes and a list of all EU agencies in which the EEA EFTA States currently participate.”
We also have to give them a load of money, but I never cared about that, our EU contributions have always been economically well worth it.
So the things that most of us would recognise as “the EU” are contained within the EEA. There’s also more choice over what bits of the EU we engage with, and which bits of law we can refuse to implement if they’re genuinely that repugnant.
Now, please don’t get me wrong, that deal means that we’re still holding ourselves down to a capitalist fire and we’re still going to be unable to nationalise our railways and we’re still going to get things shoved on us that we don’t want. But I think I can tolerate being told what fire retardant materials my curtains have to be made of so I don’t burn to death in the night in return for 450 million people having complete freedom of movement across Europe and the UK and our economy not collapsing. It’ll do.
Why I Voted Leave In the Belief We Would Join the EEA
A lot of people cast their vote shorn of all context and in the belief that if their side won, their vote would represent a clear instruction to everyone involved for what should happen next. I took a longer view and looked at what would be the likely reaction on the part of the people who wield power.
Moving away from hyperbolic articles by journalists who are literally paid to mouth off without any regard to the actual liklihood of their pronouncements, let’s look at the people who actually wield power:
- Nigel Farage does not wield power. He has 1 MP. An MP, incidentally, that appears to support joining the EEA.
Whatever Nigel Farage says about the negotiations now, he cannot actually *do* anything. He has precisely zero influence until the next election, when he’s going to have to find something else to campaign on besides a referendum and I think he will struggle to do so.
- Jean-Claude Juncker (President of the European Council) does not wield much power, he is considered in European circles to be incompetent at his job.
He has some influence on the process, but at the end of the day the other European leaders consider him to be weak and ineffectual. What he says does not go.
- Angela Merkel wields power. She’s running one of the largest constituent members of the EU and dominates all European debates.
*She* has said that there needs to be an orderly exit, that Britain should not be punished, and that she wants to try and keep Britain in the single market.
- Boris Johnson, assuming that he does win the Conservative Party leadership election and becomes Prime Minister, wields power. To judge by his press conference and the fact that he hasn’t spoken in public since, it would seem that he is genuinely shocked that his side won and isn’t sure what to do next. He’s the variable in this equation that I can’t predict, but I imagine that he is going to get leaned on, hard, to agree to join the EEA. If he doesn’t, he faces having to manage an economic crisis even bigger than 2008, which I imagine he would prefer not to.
- Sadiq Khan wields power. He’s the political representative for our financial capital, and our financial capital wants to retain our ‘passports’ that allow them to trade across Europe. He’s also got a million immigrants to protect and their Labour-voting families. He has already committed to fighting for access to the single market.
- Nicola Sturgeon wields power. She has a huge mandate from Scottish voters and has the trump card to play that if the UK doesn’t remain in the EEA, she is guaranteed a win in the second indyref. She’s currently looking at whether Scotland can remain a part of the EU while a part of the UK, but I think it’s pretty obvious that the answer is no (the European Commission ruled this on Saturday, for some reason everyone’s forgotten already).
- Our financial sector, our banks and the City of London all wield ridiculous amounts of power. They want to be members of the EEA. If you read the articles that people are pushing around on Facebook all the way through, they all start with frightening headlines like, “HSBC to move 1000 jobs to Paris“, “City of London could be cut off from Europe, says European Central Bank” “Head of Superbank’s risk division warns of epic sell-off in the FTSE 100 that will make the Great Depression look like a tear in Hoover’s eye” and every single one of them end with “…unless Britain joins the EEA of course…”. They’re threats from people who would not normally make statements that would destabilise markets, made with one outcome in mind.
- The Brexiters shouting “go home” to immigrants and BME people in the street do not wield power, or at least not much of it. That’s WHY they’re so pissed off. That’s why they’ve been told, and they believe, that immigrants are the source of their problems – the powerless have been pitted against the powerless by the powerful. At the end of the day, their opinions don’t do not affect the political process, only their votes, and they’ve already cast them. No-one cares about what they have to say until the next election, which will be fought on First Past the Post and dilute their voting power across multiple constituencies just like last time.
- The Bremainers epicly losing their shit on Facebook do not wield power. Well, they probably will in the Labour leadership election, but no number of memes that you post is going to persuade the five main party leaders to hold another referendum that has ripped every one of their parties in two (even the Liberal Democrats voted 30% to Leave) and saw ugly scenes of racism unleashed up and down the country, and prompted the first political assassination in this country since the IRA. This referendum happened by accident, remember. Who the hell wants to go through that again intentionally?
So, if you actually sit by the stream of consciousness of despair, anger, self-righteousness, and delusion, and pick out the voices who are actually counted, it seems reasonably clear to me that the players who actually run this country are quietly positioning themselves to influence the outcome of negotiations clearly in favour of joining the EEA.
This threatening article has Lord Heseltine saying that the House of Commons has 350 pro-EU MPs who can block any unfavourable deal – the implication of his words and the words of the other politicians quoted is that
a) the post-Brexit deal has to reflect the 16 million people who voted in favour of the EU and
b) that deal has to be put to a vote, either by the House of Commons (which is a majority pro-EU) or by another referendum (in which all the Bremainers, Bregreters, and all the Leavers who always planned to campaign to negotiate to join the EEA will put us over the top).
It’s clear what the ground is being prepared for.
The reason I am blithe about the impact of the racists who are abusing immigrants in the street on the exit negotiations, in addition to my comments above: Lord Ashcroft’s poll of 12,000 voters on the day of the referendum showed that the no. 1 concern of 49% of Leavers was the loss of national sovereignty to the EU.
Immigration was the top concern of 30%.
I think it has been wholly underestimated by the people who voted Remain just how strongly I and a lot of other people really, really care about British national sovereignty, just because they don’t. I believe a large number of people like me who voted Leave will be satisfied that we have enough sovereignty by taking back either the real secession of powers, or the future possibility of secession, over things like monetary union, defence and security policy, taxation and justice without actually destroying our economy by exiting the single market.
Now, I don’t want to downplay the racism element that motivated a lot of Leave voters, your man in Barnet wanting to stop Muslims entering the UK is no doubt one of many. But I think a lot of the Bregreters, when informed that there’s a way of making up for their poor judgement, will grasp it like they’re in quicksand. Along with the people who voted Remain and the people who always wanted to join the EEA, that adds up to a lot of people, and I believe it will add up to a democratic majority of public support.
We do not need to take everyone in the country with us. We only need the politicians negotiating on our behalf to support it, which they mostly do, the political weight of the financial and business sectors, which we have, and enough public support that politicians do not have to fear for themselves at the ballot box. That’s the variable that over there is the most uncertainty and over which you and I as individual voters wield power.
On the topic of why I suspect I have more influence than a Remain voter – as the last 48 hours has showed, people who voted Remain have not been shy of expressing their complete contempt for the people who voted Leave. They have abused people for being old, for being economically disadvantaged, for being stupid, for being English, northern, or white, for not being aware of what is good for them, for being racist, for supporting racism, for empowering racists, for breaking up the union, etc etc etc. I haven’t said much because I understand the place of pain and trauma and fear that it’s coming from and I accept people need to share their feelings, and for the most part people have read my posts and either refraining from commenting or explained they consider me to be a rare exception to a typical Leave voter, but I *am* a Leave voter and being on the receiving end of wall-to-wall hatred, for days, has been a deeply unpleasant experience. If I were a less empathetic person, I would hardly be inclined to then listen to those same people on the benefits of the European Economic Area. I would be inclined to listen to someone who has just been through that same experience. It’s simple emotional tribalism.
And [redacted] are completely right, “the Norway option” was raised again and again and again and again as a potential outcome in every piece I ever read on What Next. I talked about it for months. Daniel Hannan, Tory MEP and one of the leaders of Vote Leave, talked about it for *years* from national platforms and still Evan Davis looked shocked when he said it again and accusing him of back-tracking after the referendum. Leaving the EU and joining the EEA is official English Democrat Party policy. I simply don’t understand why, when the votes came in, everyone lost their minds and started wailing about how every immigrant was going to be deported next week and everyone who voted Leave was responsible for this ethnic cleansing. The alternative to both the EU and closing our borders was always there and always brought up as an option if we left.
Of course I didn’t goddamn vote for some of my closest friends to be removed from my country because of where they happened to be born. I voted to Leave because I believe fervently and passionately in the rights of people to make decisions over their own lives and EU membership interferes with those rights. Exiting the common market interferes with the rights of my friends to make decisions over *their* lives so I support joining despite the loss of sovereignty to retain for them those rights. I would not have voted Leave if I had not weighed up the liklihood that we would actually join the EEA and come to the conclusion that it is very likely that we will. Only a major calamity or unexpected political event is going to prevent what is a very clear prevailing wind blowing down the corridors of power.
At the end of the day, I judged that I could vote Leave and we would retain freedom of movement, not because I had this airy fairy idea that the country would turn round in this atmosphere and suddenly decide that it would be good for people to be immigrate/emigrate where they wanted. I judged that I could vote Leave and we would retain freedom of movement because I believe that capital runs our world and freedom of movement is good for business. We have freedom of movement at all not because EU leaders thought it would be a good idea for people to be able to go on holiday without carrying a passport, but in order to create a much bigger pool of labour to keep wages down and fill gaps in the European labour market. The holidays thing was a side benefit that also kept tourists spending their money in the EU rather than elsewhere. It was all just economics. It is just all economics, as far as the people who wield power are concerned.
So, I have a lot of faith in our imperial masters to do their best to find a way out of this mess. Ceding EU sovereignty while retaining EEA membership is literally the most simple and effective move for capital to continue its exploitation of markets while keeping the mob in check. That’s why I think it will happen.
You mentioned in a previous post that you have done lots of research on the EU. Do you know of any relatively easily digestible article on the breakdown of powers between the EU and everything else, relative to the breakdown of powers after leaving the EU and joining the EEA?
Also, if joining the EEA is the same as the Norway option, then as far as I can make out the rules we are no longer subject to are within this list: Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy, the European Court, Commission or Parliament, justice and home affairs and the Common Foreign and Security Policy. But I don’t really understand what most of these things do! Do you know of any list of recent decisions made by the UK in relation to these areas? Or even how I would go about making such a list?
Thanks for putting in the research!