This article was originally published in the North Wales Weekly News on 5 November 2017.
As I write, I am also preparing my contribution to a Commons debate on a Labour backbench motion framed in the following terms:
“That this House believes that for the UK to withdraw from the European Economic Area (EEA) it will have to trigger Article 127 of the EEA Agreement; calls on the Government to provide time for a debate and decision on a substantive motion on the UK’s continued membership of the EEA; and further calls on the Government to undertake to abide by the outcome of that decision.”
The EEA is an economic association that includes all the members of the European Union and three of the four members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Under the EEA Agreement, EFTA members obtain access to the single market similar to that of EU members, but have to observe the so-called “four freedoms”, including freedom of movement of labour, as well as pay contributions to the EU budget and submit, indirectly, to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. In order words, it is EU membership “lite”.
I believe that, in legal terms, the Labour motion is misconceived. It ignores the fact that the EEA Agreement provides that it applies only to EU member states and the three EFTA countries. When the UK ceases to be a member of the EU, its EEA membership will, as a consequence, fall away. In other words, there is no need to give notice under Article 127.
However, the very fact that the motion has been tabled begs a further question. Why is it that some politicians simply refuse to accept the verdict of the people in last year’s referendum? The outcome, after all, was very clear. Most of the country has now accepted it and, according to polls, simply want to get on with the process of leaving the EU.
Politicians of all parties would do well to concentrate their efforts on making a success of Brexit. There is a wide world out there, full of opportunity. That is where our country’s future lies, not the limbo of a European halfway house.