Richard North, 30/08/2016  

If I tried really hard, I could be pretty insulted by this. Gerard Lyons, one of the subscribers on the John Mills list, picks up on Peter Lilley's comments on my Monographs, calling Lilley's input an "excellent critique" of the so-called Norway option. 

In this critique, sent to the entire Mills list, Mr Lilley writes, "I have great respect for Richard North. He does original research. It is thorough and well documented. On a range of issues he has been right and the conventional wisdom wrong. Moreover, he is not a closet Remainer trying to inveigle the UK back into the EU by the back door. So I am reluctant to take issue with him".

But four short paragraphs later, Lilley writes that he thinks: "the idea of exiting the EU via a period in the EEA is a mistake. The EEA was devised for countries whose governments wanted to join the EU but whose people were reluctant. It is an ante-room, not a departure lounge". That's it. That is the complete version of Lilley's "excellent critique" – three sentences.

Yet, apart from anything else, Lilley's claim that "the EEA was devised for countries whose governments wanted to join the EU but whose people were reluctant" is false. The history clearly says otherwise. Lilley is indulging in unfounded rhetoric. The EEA was originally constructed as an alternative to the EU.

This is the man, incidentally, who writes, "when politicians debate issues of which they have no experience they seize on any plausible argument which supports their case", then to parade his own ignorance.

Of course, it is entirely the case that some players have seen the EEA as a halfway house - but that is rather in the past. Switzerland, a potential EU member, didn't join the EEA. Norway and Iceland have formally withdrawn their applications. As a halfway house for those on their way in, the EEA has been a dismal failure.

But, by any logic, if the EEA can be a staging post for potential entrants, it can also be a home for countries like the UK on the way out. For that purpose, it is neither an ante-room nor a departure lounge. The analogy is inappropriate. The EEA is a multilateral treaty which affords Efta members participation in the EU's Single Market, without them having to be in the EU.

So, Lilley's "excellent critique" amounts to a personal opinion, based on a flawed appreciation of the EEA's history, and an inappropriate "ante-room" analogy. But these three sentences have more power and authority than anything I could ever produce.

Lyons claims to have read the Monographs (and an earlier version of Flexcit), but there is no equality of arms in his "bubble". The prejudice of a single "gatekeeper" carries far more more weight than the considered work of an expert researcher.

He thus prefers three ill-judged sentences to eight Monographs - thousands of words of careful analysis, supported by hundreds of references and a huge amount of evidence. So armed, Lyons is able to ignore the dangers of the WTO Option and dismiss trade barriers as if they did not exist. He does not need mere evidence when, like most of the Mills list, he can rely on his "gatekeeper", Peter Lilley, to tell him what to think.

In such matters, prestige trumps all. My original, "thorough and well documented" research is of no value compared with three sentences from the prestigious insider, Peter Lilley.

Having so easily dispensed with the tiresome detail, Lyons believes: "we should proceed based on leaving and trading under the World Trade Organisation (WTO)". The UK, says Lyons, "is already a member of the WTO and it is there to facilitate trade, not stop it. Outside the EU, we can trade freely under WTO rules and reduce import tariffs".

This is not ignorance speaking. It is blind arrogance - the arrogance of the bubble. It is a blunt refusal to entertain intelligent research in preference to the diktats of prestige, playing to the home crowd. The exchange with Mills has been a complete waste of time. My input has had not the slightest effect. 

As I remarked earlier such people are unreachable. We cannot communicate with them. They are a lost cause.

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