Are we really going to ‘take back control’?

15 Jul 2016


The 23rd June saw the decision for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Democracy has spoken and this decision must be respected. But what next for the UK? How is our negotiation policy going to work?  


One of the main arguments from the leave side during the referendum was that countries like Norway and Switzerland do not have full EU membership but still do well economically, so why can’t the UK? The examples of both Norway and Switzerland proved extremely effective in trying to demonstrate to the electorate the fact that a bright future without full EU membership was still possible, but would the Norwegian and Swiss style solutions actually work for UK?


Firstly, if we take a look at ‘the Norway deal’, it is debateable as to whether the Brexit would actually have been worth it in the first place if we were to adopt such a deal. Many Leave campaigners argued for a Brexit because they wanted to ‘take back control’ of our own law-making, whilst others wanted to leave the EU in order to reduce immigration levels and stop the free movement of EU citizens coming into the UK. As a member of the single market, however, Norway still has to abide by EU laws in terms of trade and still has to allow the free movement of EU citizens, essentially meaning it cannot actually  ‘take control’ of either legislative issues or immigration.


Ironically, Norway is among the countries most efficient in adopting EU directives. The European Economic Area (EEA) countries, namely Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein are non-member states of the EU, with full access to the single market, but regularly adopt new EU legislation. By 2015, over 10,000 legal acts had been incorporated by these states in the EEA agreement. If you voted to leave the EU wanting to ‘take back control’ of legislation and immigration policy, would this style of negotiation appeal to your interests? Certainly not.


Moreover, the Swiss type solution does not provide much hope either. The Swiss relationship with the EU is a patchwork, established in long rounds of diplomatic negotiations and requiring constant reparation. Switzerland does not have full access to the Single Market and was only able to gain selective access to the single market on condition of accepting the EU’s free movement of people.


In more recent Swiss-EU agreements, amendments are regulated by ‘dynamic provisions’, which for example oblige Switzerland to adopt all new Schengen legislation and all changes to custom security matters occurring in the EU. Switzerland therefore has to passively accept EU decisions; whereas member states, in comparison, are the decision-makers when the EU opts into a specific legislative project. The Swiss deal means that they ultimately have no ‘control’ whatsoever.


So if neither the Norwegian or Swiss style solutions work for us, could we just make our own different solution? The leave campaign painted a very attractive picture of our future; full access to the single market, full control over our borders and full control over all of our laws and legislation. It is hardly surprisingly why these promises persuaded so many people to vote leave. Ultimately the leave campaign promoted that- through a Brexit - we would be able to remain a part in the largest economic market in the world, whilst simultaneously ‘taking back control’ over whatever we wanted to. This would seem all too perfect for most Euro-sceptics. This picture painted by the leave campaign – similar to the promise of £350 million being given to the NHS per week after the Brexit- remains nonetheless extremely unrealistic.  Some would argue that the EU now ‘has’ to be friendly and considerate with our post-Brexit negotiations, simply because ‘they need us more than we need them’. Whilst it may be true that trade deals between the UK and the EU are important to many EU countries and businesses, under no circumstances do they have to be friendly and considerate with our future trade negotiations.


In addition to this, the events and aftermath of the Brexit have caused several movements in other EU countries such as France and Spain, where even more referendums around EU membership are now being demanded. However, if the EU was to give us this portrayed ‘friendly trade deal’, surely this would encourage even more countries to want to leave the union and demand their own referendums? Many are worried that it would not actually benefit the EU at all to give generous post-Brexit agreements to the UK, rather, they may want to make an example of the UK in order to deter other countries from following in its footsteps.


Another argument frequently heard is that the UK as a country should not be so dependent on the EU in terms of trade in the first place, and that we should just simply ‘do more trade with China’. We already have several trade agreements with China. It is therefore clear that, in order to get a good deal with the EU, the UK will probably have to give up many its hopes of ‘taking back control’.


There is no need to be extremely pessimistic about the future of the UK; the political and economic instability which we are currently experiencing will eventually disappear. Despite Brexit, the UK remains a strong country and will now be able to find new trade partners and negotiate new terms with the EU which could work in our favour economically. This does not take away from the fact, however, that we will not be ‘taking back control’ as promised by the Leave campaign, regardless of the different deals on the table.


It is indisputable that we need our trade with the EU and that we need access to the single market. Access to it means free movement of people and adopting EU laws; these basic principles have always gone hand in hand with membership of the single market.



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