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EU politics: the gathering of the fantasies

2012-12-12 13:32:56

Tel 571-dam.jpg

Get the framing wrong and the debate goes astray. And this is the path down which the Conservative Party is thundering, with yet another misplaced offering from a senior Tory politician.

This one comes from  Damian Green, who is today headlined as about to say that Conservative hopes that Britain's EU membership can be reduced to participating in a common market are a "fantasy".

Green is thus challenging the "growing consensus" on the so-called "common market or out" position, which is said to be gaining support among Conservative MPs, including some ministers. Advocates argue that Britain should negotiate a radically simplified membership of the EU, or leave.

In many respects, Green is right to make this challenge. He is to accuse some critics of the EU of being unrealistic in arguing that the UK can opt out of many EU laws while remaining within its free-trade rules. He is also to warn that moving to leave the EU would damage the UK economy because many major international companies especially car makers - would no long invest in the country.

But, like so many including Rodney Leach whom we link above he is mis-framing the debate and starting off with the wrong premise. The issue is not "common market or out", but "common market and out", the logical outcome of Article 50 negotiations.

The problem with the first position is that it does not answer the "what then?" question. If we can't get the common market option through renegotiation and so decide to storm out of the EU, what happens then? And behind that lies an ocean-going raft of fantasy.

On the other hand, if we lodge notice of our intention to leave, negotiate membership of EFTA/EEA and then leave, we end up in exactly the position desired by so many of the current agitators.

Once that happens, there is of course no problem about damage to the British economy, which makes this such an attractive option and thereby requires people like Cameron to raise the "fax law" canard. 

His game is transparently obvious all part of the three-legged strategy aimed at dissuading us from leaving. Unfortunately, one branch of the sceptic community is playing into the hands of the euophiles by advocating immediate withdrawal. Yet nothing could be more calculated to frighten the horses and build resistance to withdrawal.

As always, therefore, there is an urgent need to re-frame the debate. Yes, we can leave and stay in the single market. In fact, the only way we can achieve this position desired by so many is to leave. Get the framing right and it really is that simple. Get it wrong, though, and we could find ourselves committed to an "in-out" referendum that we end up losing.

There is a huge amount at stake now, and we really do need to focus on developing a winning strategy. It is good, therefore, to see that Farage is on the case.