Flexcit is dead

We may have reached the point where we can declare Soft Brexit via EFTA/EEA officially “friendless” among Leavers, after the great Helena Morrissey (and former friend of the “Flexcit” plan) came out in favour of the government’s emerging strategy.

The idea of Soft Brexit (if not the term) has been a long time in the making, extending back into the annals of eurosceptic history. There has been a vein of euroscepticism calling for the UK to rejoin EFTA and settle on an open market-based solution for many years. Daniel Hannan has been among those making the case for EFTA (“The Case for EFTA”, 2005) which was then developed by others in the direction of an interim EEA option (Hugo Van Randwyck “The viable alternatives to EU membership”, 2013; and then Dr Richard North “The Norway Option”, 2013, and “Flexcit”).

Not unreasonably (and rather predictably), a number of Remainers have alighted on the position since the 23rd June but they have done so in a pretty ham-fisted way, dropping clues that they see it as a staging post (good) on the way to rejoining the EU (not good).

As we enter 2017, a comprehensive bilateral deal(s) with “an implementation period” (i.e. a transition period) seems to have become the meaning of Brexit for the government, with the stated destination of a “global Britain” and all sorts of hints dropped that although freedom of movement will now need to end, immigration will continue at high levels in a number of respects and across a number of job sectors.

When put like that, one could wonder what the death of Soft Brexit amounts to in reality.

The answer seems to be that the government and the prevailing mood around it has specifically dumped the idea of using the EEA model during an “implementation period”. This is perhaps because it emerged that:

  1. An EFTA/EEA transition deal was still going to take a lot of work and focus just to reach that position; focus that could arguably be a diversion from the main longer term deal
  2. Having done all the work to reach EFTA/EEA, we would then basically stay there for over 20 years with no real game plan beyond it. In political terms, that cannot be classed as an “interim” or “temporary” “transition” deal.

Where did these drawbacks emerge from? Curiously, from the leading Leave advocate of the Norway interim option and author of “Flexcit”, Dr Richard North, who has made these points clear at the Treasury select committee and elsewhere.

So what ever technical merit the EFTA/EEA option had as a transition mechanism for Brexit— and it’s no secret I think it had much going for it — it has morphed into a political non-starter.

What has taken its place in government and Whitehall circles is a Singham-style exit using a series of interim measures across various sectors as the “transition” mechanism. That’s not to say that EEA cannot come back into the frame under any circumstances or in any form— it might. A point on which I may write in future.

But as another former Flexciteer concludes today, Flexcit looks dead, while the idea of a transition lives on.

Funny old world.