Remainers need to lay off the EEA Option — They might soon need it

The other day, on 4th June, there was a small but significant development.

One of Remain’s long-standing thinkers, Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform, agreed (unprompted) that if we voted to Leave, the EEA could indeed provide a viable way out for Britain, just as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard had described in the Telegraph two days before.

Grant’s tweets showed that he also clearly understood that this likeliest of outcomes was because of parliamentary arithmetic and that Boris and Gove would accept it.

To my knowledge, Charles is the first Remainer:

  1. To agree that the EEA interim option is a serious and viable option in the event that Britain actually votes to Leave.
  2. By implication, recognising that the Remain campaign is in some trouble and that in the event of a Leave vote, the Remainers will need a path and a game plan that avoids taking the ‘mad’ exit route sketched out by Vote Leave.
  3. By extension, that means Remainers should now stop attacking the EEA option as a viable route out because they may be soon selling it to the electorate as parliament’s answer to the British people’s stated wish — to leave the European Union.

I claim that Mr Grant is the first Remainer to have this moment of realisation but actually that may not be true. Another top Remain campaigner who has been known to dabble in strategy may have beaten him to it…

George Osborne.

If you recall, the second Treasury report on the impact of Brexit contained lots of things but it did not include any analysis of the EEA option. This point was immediately picked up by observers and it left a series of journalists scratching their heads over why this might be the case, the apparently obvious answer being that it was an option Vote Leave had seemingly dismissed.

But…

  1. As I have noted on multiple occasions, we are not electing Vote Leave in this referendum so their views are interesting but ultimately academic — something even their most senior supporters are starting to acknowledge.
  2. As I have also noted, senior civil servants in Whitehall are already lining up the EEA option as the only possible transition step out after a Leave vote. And they are also preparing their case for killing off the WTO option.

Put those together, and one can very easily imagine a chat taking place some weeks ago between George Osborne and senior civil servants where they would have told him that the government may actually need the EEA Option in the event of a Leave vote. Additionally that it may end up becoming the great healer of the enormous Conservative rift that is opening up. “So we need to lay off it a bit, Mr Osborne”.

The option of course has flaws — almost every route for Britain from here, especially Remain, suffers from those. But as a transition step out of EU membership should the British people deliver a Leave instruction to the government, the option is widely acknowledged to be the best/most derisked. And, dear Remainers, please acknowledge that the EEA ‘as constituted’ would be a transition step. It’s tiring having to constantly point this out and getting drawn into pointless conversations about it being a destination.

Anyway, I realise other Remainers will have some difficulty going quiet on the EEA option. Remainers are, after all, in the business of showing that exit is very difficult. But aside from the good reason of possibly needing to sell the EEA option in the event of a Leave vote, there is already a very good reason for not shutting down every possible exit option. Specifically because that would give voters the clear impression that the EU is actually a prison with no viable exits (as described here).

That is an incredibly dangerous and downright irresponsible message to be sending out to voters and is very likely to stoke the forces of Leave into even greater and more widespread anger beyond 23rd June, if Remain manage to win the vote.

Remainers therefore need to seriously simmer down about this and quietly consider their own need for the EEA option in the event of a Leave vote, which opinion polls are now suggesting is much more of a possibility than many Remainers and Leavers had previously thought.

In short, whether they like it or not — and I know they do not — the EEA option could become a central part of their own game plan in less than three weeks time.

And I think George Osborne and Charles Grant can see it.