In this contribution, Kevin Mc Namara describes why, also with the Brexit process in course, it is in the interest of both parties that a strong relationship remains. Like Norway, or Switzerland, the United Kingdom could develop a sort of ‘Associate membership’ with some regulations to adopt.
I’m a British Liberal Democrat, and I campaigned vigorously for the United Kingdom (UK) to remain inside the European Union (EU). The result was heartbreaking but – for me – that did not end the fight. In the 2017 General Election, I stood for Parliament on a platform of offering voters an Exit from Brexit, and performed better than expected in a heavily leave-voting area.
Even though that election ended, that debate rages on – the Prime Minister’s Florence speech now prolongs it. Although light on detail, Theresa May’s speech did elucidate that her government wants a two-year transitional deal to avoid a cliff-edge and also to give her government more space and time, as it has thus far bungled the Brexit negotiations.
There was, however, one thing that I agreed with the Prime Minister on: the EU is stronger with the UK, and the UK is stronger with EU. For this reason, I think it is in the interest of both parties that a strong relationship remains – if I was the Shadow Brexit Secretary of a socialist party that was fudging this issue, I might even say “a progressive relationship” – but we need to decide what this looks like, and fast.
With Macron looking to radically reform the European Union – going as far as to call for a Eurozone Parliament to give democratic accountability to monetary policy – what the British and Northern Irish needs to be thought of in this context, and the UK desperately needs friends to move this along.
In the diagram above, other than seeing that Europe is a rather complicated place, you will see that the UK is inside the European Economic Area, the European Union, the Customs Union and the Council of Europe, but is not a member of the Schengen Area or the Eurozone – it has always enjoyed a unique relationship with the EU and related institutions.
Whilst this has always been used to appease the UK’s Euroscepticism, it can be used to keep the UK at Europe’s periphery, even if the UK now decides it no longer wants to be at its core.
Like my party, I believe that Single Market and Customs Union membership are paramount to the UK’s prosperity, and also are important to ensure that Brexit does not adversely affect our European partners either. The Union Jack in that diagram would move a few inches to the left and rest either next to Norway or Switzerland.
I know my government, aided and abetted by our socialist opposition, disagree so we need to prepare Plan C in the event that an exit from Brexit and a soft Brexit are both off the table. We need a Plan B that softens the blow not just for the UK and the EU, but for colleagues in Gibraltar who seek to be hurt most by Brexit. That Plan B also needs to leave clear a re-entry route for the young who voted overwhelmingly to remain,
To recap, the new arrangement needs to leave Bre-entry on the table as a possibility, cement a strong continuing EU-UK relationship without remaining part of the Single Market. In the same way that the EU has rolling accession talks with a number of nations – such as Serbia – it should establish a similar relationship in place for seceding nations too.
You might call it ‘Associate Membership’ of the European Union, a space and a framework in which states can:
- Continue to adhere to the Copenhagen principles
- Be part of a forum on future regulations and be able to adopt them if they wish to do so
- Enjoy trading relationships – short of benefits/obligations of the Single Market – with Member States
- Enjoy (optional) membership of entities such as European Atomic Energy Community, if possible.
I am afraid that I will not be able to show you what this looks like on the venn diagram above as I do not have the requisite skills and – sadly – the UK might again cut a rather lonely figure. In his speech to the LSE European Institute on the 28th September, Verhofstadt, ALDE Leader and European Parliament Lead Brexit Negotiatior, signals that he could also accept this as part of a package of broad EU reforms.
The advantage of this would be that it keeps the four freedoms indivisible, keeping the EU strong, it would provide a framework for seceding states to stay in-line with the operations of the EU, and a route to quick return. It would make softer the possibility of a very hard Brexit, and it would create a strong, forward-looking relationship with the EU27 so we can come up with creative solutions for Gibraltar.
And then the fight continues, and then one day, the structure of Europe might look more like this:
Kevin Mc Namara