So Chapter 9 of Dan Hannan’s new book is called “What are the alternatives?”
After a fair amount of scene setting, and at least one dodgy stat (about Britain instantly becoming the EU’s biggest export destination), these key points come out of the chapter for me:
- The point that no two European non-EU countries have “identical” deals. That’s true and could imply to the less knowledgeable that they are all some distance apart, which, Iceland and Norway are not. But Norway does do some things differently to Iceland so pays a different amount per head…..ergo they are not identical.
- Then this paragraph: “It is nonetheless worth considering what some of the non-EU states do. if only to give ourselves a rough idea of what a trade-based deal – half-in and half-out to quote the obligatory cliche – actually looks like.” A trade deal that’s half-in and half-out, eh?
- He then goes on to say that Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are the most useful comparisons. “Before we look in more detail at what they do, though, we should stress that no one is suggesting that Britain slavishly mimic any of them. Each country has unique circumstances.” The phrase “slavishly mimic” and “unique” both reinforce the earlier word,”identical”.
- Hannan is clearly NOT talking about different models being different here e.g the EFTA/EEA model from the EFTA-only model. As if to quietly reinforce the point that he is comparing countries not models, he goes on to say that “of course, these three countries all differ from one another”. He then focuses on the example of Switzerland (and so gently steers the casual reader away from the other two which are also slightly different from each other). And with Switzerland, he makes the point that she is in the Schengen zone….which of course Britain wouldn’t join. The purpose of this passage on page 156 is clearly to note an example (and a big one) where Britain would be different. Of course anyone with sufficient knowledge knows that Schengen membership and EEA membership are independent of each other, so getting an EFTA/EEA deal without Schengen is as straight forward as getting one with.
- Just to be clear (if there was any doubt), he does know that Iceland and Norway are in the EEA and Switzerland is EFTA only, because he notes it in passing on Page 157. And he does still say that Switzerland has a “better deal” than Norway.
- We wait until page 163 before he returns to differences between the countries, this time noting the differences in EU contributions between Iceland and Norway. Iceland, he says, pays per head half of what Norway pays per head.
- So having dealt with all three countries differences, and a discussion of what policies Britain might wish to cooperate on (as EFTA countries do), we arrive at this very intriguing paragraph running across pages 163 and 164: “How much would Britain pay on leaving? Plainly, there would be a small administrative cost to cover the functioning of the institutions that invigilate the free market. The EFTA states contribute to a Surveillance Authority and a Tribunal that polices tariff-free commerce across the EFTA and EU zone. They also agreed to pay a fee, phased in, to the new EU states to help them meet the cost of adopting EU standards.” He is unquestionably referring to an EEA position here (Iceland, Norway) because Switzerland is not a part of the Surveillance Authority or “Tribunal” (i.e. Court) and the last bit about paying to new EU states is referring to the EEA & Norway grants.
- Then moving onto page 167 we get a summary of Hannan’s broad guidelines for the government to negotiate: “We’d retain free trade with the single market; we’d withdraw from the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies; our laws would be supreme in our own territory; we’d apply no tariffs, either to EU or non-EU states; we’d remain outside Schengen; we’d stay in NATO and the Council of Europe.” That is as good a description of the EEA position as you’ll get.
- Next page he says “When we look at the EFTA countries, we see not an exact model to follow, but a happy vision……” That’s the first time he has suggested the model isn’t quite right but this could be explained away in future by saying ours is a different model “because we’re not in Schengen”.
- After 3 pages discussing Guernsey, he appears to suggest we can get a deal that’s something like any or all of these but better due to the UK’s size.
The point of this whole chapter is that Hannan definitely does not rule out the EEA option and in some ways actually comes down closer to the EEA option than any other. In particular, the mention of the Surveillance Authority, EFTA Court and EEA grants. Also his broad guidelines, including retention of the single market align perfectly with an EEA position. Plus he concludes the chapter on page 175 by invoking Iceland.
All of this points to the EEA. Is he seeing the way the wind is blowing? Does he now prefer it? I don’t know and I suspect neither does he. He has also previously said he’d accept associate membership if that were offered. We can certainly say he is nowhere near the WTO Option/cut-off option that UKIP and some other Tories seem to want.
Maybe the simple point here is that he would undoubtedly accept an EEA position after a Leave vote if that became the main Brexit proposition on the table. And as that is very likely to be the case, maybe we can say with some confidence that he’ll be on board with that.