Richard North, 14/01/2014  

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Casually kicking the Norwegian and Swiss options for "Brexit" into touch, Wunderkind Matthew Elliott emerges today with an idea of his own, which he rather grandly calls the British Option.

This entails our Whitehall government permitting the 95 percent of domestic businesses that do not export to the EU to opt out of EU law, offering Britain "an exciting future as a member of the EU, but with a much looser relationship that enables business to grow unencumbered by overregulation".

In devising this "cunning plan", Elliott and his co-author Oliver Lewis concede that "it is very doubtful that the EU would agree to unilateral opt outs for British industries while permitting universal access to the Single Market".

But they believe they can solve this dilemma "without needing an acrimonious and possibly futile bargaining session". And that "solution" is to exempt 95 percent of British businesses from the most onerous EU regulation, while still allowing the rest of UK businesses to access the Single Market. It is this that they call their "British Option".

So, according to this pair, it would appear that, while the EU would not agree to companies which export to the rest of the EU opting out of EU law, they would accept the rest of the businesses in the UK doing so, thus completely reversing the tide of economic integration that has been continuing ever since we joined the EEC.

At least, the "Ellewis" combo have the grace to acknowledge that, "Treaties would have to be changed". But they then make light of the problem by telling us that "Treaty change is already on the cards". And since "Protocols in the Treaties have allowed member states to opt out (or – at a later date - opt in) to components of the Treaties", that route is open to the UK on this proposal.

Strangely, though, "Ellewis" are rather vague on the specifics, suggesting that bthe main change required is to Article 23 of the "EC Treaty", which stipulates free circulation for Community goods within the Community. Other areas that would require significant revision include Part III of the Treaty of European Union legislating for the Internal Market and the free movement of goods.

Then, they tell us that the customs union will have to be redefined to make it clear that, rather than permitting tariff-free trade in all goods and services between member states, it instead permits tariff-free trade for only those goods and services that meet the EU's legislative standards.

However, we hear nothing of Article 4 (TEU) which requires that Member States "shall facilitate the achievement of the Union's tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Union's objectives".

Nor do we hear anything of Article 4 (TFEU), which states that, "When the Treaties confer on the Union exclusive competence in a specific area, only the Union may legislate and adopt legally binding acts, the Member States being able to do so themselves only if so empowered by the Union or for the implementation of Union acts".

Remarkably, also absent from consideration is title VII and Article 114 (TFEU) which requires the approximation of laws, on which the entire foundation of the Internal Market is based.

In other worlds, what "Ellewis" fail to tell us is that they are proposing that the UK should be able to opt out of aspects of EU treaty law every bit as fundamental as the freedom of movement provisions, and that this could be tackled in the forthcoming renegotiation.

One again, therefore, we are seeing fantasy politics, a continuation of the Muppet tendency that believes we can have an "à la carte Europe", and that the "colleagues" are going to roll over an allow the UK to cherry-pick the treaty, taking all the gain and none of the pain.

Needless to say, the legacy media, such as the Mail, in covering the story, find talking heads to tell us that this is a "brilliant idea", with not a hint that we would have to invoke Article 50 and leave the EU in order to negotiate such a deal – with little prospect of getting an agreement on the lines proposed.

All we have, therefore, is another illustration of the child-like level to which the EU debate has descended, with supposedly serious commentators offering the impossible to the ignorant, to the applause of the empty-headed claque.


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