August 03, 2017
Commons to vote whether to keep UK in universe
We have noted before that the vast majority of Brexit-related stories in the UK derive their energy from ignorance and apathy - ignorance of European law and lack of interest in European politics. We recall when Jeremy Corbyn droned on about "access to the single market", which is about as meaningful as membership of the universe. We are now reading that a group of Labour and Tory MPs want to force a vote "to keep the UK in EEA, at least for a transitional period". We hate to break to you, but no, you can’t stay in the EEA. After March 2019, you are a third country. You will not be in the single market. You will not be in the customs union. The EEA is a treaty between the EU, of which the UK will no longer be a member, and all but one Efta country. Sure, Theresa May could have signalled in her Article 50 letter to Donald Tusk that the intention of the UK is to negotiate EEA membership after Brexit. But she didn’t. And a parliamentary bill supported that position. The EU is basing its negotiating strategy on that letter.
There is also a lot of confusion about the transitional period. There is no formal provision for it under EU law. There is no off-the-shelf package to pick from as Philip Hammond put it. We know of course what he means - a continuation of the status quo minus political representation, for a time-limited period. Article 50 itself can be construed as a legal basis for this. This is what we presume people mean when they talk about EEA membership. But it is nothing of the kind. The UK and the EU agree on applying EU rules to the UK for a time-limited period.
Another example is this Guardian editorial, which blames that the loss of the EU agencies (see our separate story on the medical agency) on the PM's insistence that the UK extricate itself from the European Court of Justice. This is nonsense. If you leave the EU, you lose the agencies. British tabloids keep on confusing the EU and the Council of Europe, the ECJ and the ECHR, as well as the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights (from which the UK has an opt-out) and the European Convention of Human Rights (of which the UK is a founding member).
Another often repeated error is the assertion by some pro-Remain commentators that the EU would in the end offer a face-saving package to a recalcitrant UK: stay in the EU and get some limited sovereignty on freedom of movement. We keep on hearing this nonsense. The EU did not offer this to David Cameron, and it won’t offer it to anyone else. And if the UK decides to revoke Brexit, the EU will, of course consider it. But, rather than provide incentives, it is more likely to issue conditions under which it would accept a revocation.