As the official Brexit date is fast approaching, the UK government continues to be entangled in inter and cross-Party conflicts. A second referendum is only a daydream; consequently, the government now needs to focus on further possible and viable Brexit scenarios. The best short-term solution may be to remain part of the European Economic Area (EEA).
Staying in the EEA would allow the UK continued access to the EU single market, allowing it to remain economically stable, the Irish Border issue would be less problematic, and the UK would retain the EU immigration and financial investment that many businesses use. A report commissioned by the campaign group Our Future, Our Choice suggests a Norway-style Brexit would cost young people around £20,000 in lost earnings over their lifetimes, but that this would be better than a No Deal brexit which would could cost young people £100,000 over their lives.
Remaining in the EEA might be beneficial for government spending. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) argued that spending could be increased beyond the £20bn promised for the NHS only if Britain retains the closest possible relationship with the EU. “By contrast, a no-deal Brexit would eliminateany fiscal space and require thegovernment to stabilise the economy in the short term,” NIESR said.
However, some economic ties could be broken. Remaining in the EEA does not necessitate staying in the customs union or remaining part of joint agricultural and fishing policies, which infuriate many Brexit supporters.
The UK would be a rule-taker rather than a rule-maker
The EEA does entail accepting the authority of the EU for a longer period of time. This would primarily manifest through the continuation of the free movement of people and the at least partial recognition of the authority of the European Court of Justice, both of which were bones of contention during the referendum.
Keeping these in place during a transition might be helpful; however, the Migration Advisory Committee released a report showing the dependency of the life science sector on EEA immigration, with up to 41% of the workforce being non-UK nationals. It would allow more time to decide what to do about existing EU legislation and precedents.
If the UK stays in the EEA, it will not be part of the decision-making process, lose seats in all major EU institutions and would need to accept the continued freedom of movement. For many Brexiteers, it would therefore not be respecting the referendum result, especially because it would make the UK a rule-taker rather than a rule-maker.
Remaining in the EEA does not necessitate staying in the customs union, which infuriates many Brexit supporters
However, as Yanis Varoufakis suggested, staying in the EEA for the next five years under a renewable contract will allow the House of Commons to address unresolved issues such as the Irish border and take the time they need to negotiate new plans for a more organised and less harmful Brexit.
It is certain that the UK will leave the EU, yet staying in the EEA for five more years, despite all its drawbacks, is the only option which allows for an orderly and perhaps even successful Brexit in all areas of politics, economics, and society.
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