Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.
On the morning of the referendum, I wrote an article on this website arguing that, whichever side won, there would need to be compromise. A narrow Remain vote, I averred, would not be a mandate to carry on as before. Likewise, “a narrow Leave vote is not a mandate for anything precipitate or radical. It is a mandate for a phased repatriation of power, with the agreement, wherever possible, of our European allies. Many of our existing arrangements will remain in place; and those which we want to disapply won’t be scrapped overnight.”
I stand by those words. It is in everyone’s interest to replace our EU membership with a strong and friendly relationship, one that allows for maximum collaboration. Theresa May has acknowledged this from the beginning with her calls for a “deep and special partnership” that would leave the UK as Europe’s “best friend and strongest ally”.
That objective should be uncontentious, but politics is a funny game. A referendum makes people tribal. Proposals which would otherwise appear perfectly reasonable are resented when they come from the other side. Decisions are made with an eye on newspaper headlines, or on internal party jockeying.
Still, it shouldn’t be hard to find a position around which the majority of Remain and Leave voters can unite. Not all them, perhaps. Some Remainers won’t accept anything short of full membership, and some Leavers, bitter after a lifetime of defeats, will rail against any deal. Most people in both camps, though, are interested in getting the best outcome starting from where we are. What sort of deal could both sides at least live with? Here are some broad principles:
1) The United Kingdom is a democracy
Votes here are not a tedious technicality, as in Venezuela or Russia. They mean something. All sides promised in advance to accept the 2016 referendum. The only justification for a second referendum would be if the question were significantly different – in other words, if the EU 27 came forward with substantively new terms. That plainly isn’t going to happen.
2) Britain should have the closest relationship with the EU compatible with sovereignty
Leaving the EU means that UK law once again becomes supreme on our own territory. That is what “take back control”, in its most elemental sense, means. Having taken back control, there is no reason why we shouldn’t replicate through domestic laws and bilateral treaties any aspects of policy which both sides want to retain.
3) Europe’s success matters to us
The EU 27 will remain our military allies and our trading partners. We want the eventual deal to benefit them as well as us. It would not be in our interest if, for example, prolonged uncertainty about Brexit led to another bout of worries about the euro. We should go into these talks looking for win-win outcomes.
4) Trade benefits everyone
When it comes to the EU 27, we enjoy broadly free trade now, and should aim to keep it. When it comes to the other 165 states in the world, including those that have existing deals with the EU, we should aim to liberalise further. The second of these objectives will be the more challenging since it means taking on, rather than accepting, the status quo. We should seek the closest customs arrangements with the EU compatible with being able to strike our own trade deals. It is worth noting that in none of the EEA countries, nor in Switzerland, is there any campaign to join the EU’s Common External Tariff.
5) Nothing wrong with a common market
Although some commentators lazily talk of “the-single-market-and-customs-union” as though it were one thing, it isn’t. Norway is in the single market but not the customs union. Turkey is largely outside the single market, but largely inside the customs union. For Britain, which conducts a disproportionate volume of its trade outside the EU, the customs union has never made sense. But there are aspects of the single market which are wholly unobjectionable. Indeed, you could argue that the real basis of the single market is the prohibition on discrimination against goods or products from other member states, something to which almost no one objects. Britain should keep that rule, enforced through some joint arbitration mechanism, à la Suisse.
6) All Europe matters
Of 47 states in the Council of Europe, 19 are outside the EU. Each has its own deal with Brussels, currently a random hodgepodge of arrangements. Brexit is an opportunity to create a stable and workable arrangement in Europe, by creating a market-only status for countries that either don’t want to join the EU’s political structures or are deemed unsuitable for full membership. This idea has long been popular with European federalists and could, if pursued, transform the atmosphere of the negotiations: we’d be building something new, not simply dismantling something.
7) Timing is secondary
After 44 years in the EU, who cares whether we have a two- or three-year transition? What matters is making the outcome beneficial to both sides, not the precise phasing.
8) No hard border in Ireland
A border is a demarcation of jurisdiction; it doesn’t need to be a line of control. The border between EU Sweden and non-EU Norway is barely noticeable: there is free movement of people, and customs checks may happen within 15 miles on either side. Millions of EU nationals cross the border every day to work in Switzerland, which is also traversed by some of Europe’s main north-south and east-west transport routes. The main purpose of the Swiss frontier is to check that foreign drivers have purchased the discs that allow them to use that country’s beautiful roads. Since Great Britain and Ireland are both islands, with a limited number of points of entry, it should be logistically easier to find a workable arrangement here than in either of those cases, one based on the sharing of information between the two states – something that already happens under the terms of the Common Travel Area.
9) Where it works, keep it
During the referendum campaign, much was made of the value of the EU’s various educational and research schemes. Fine: if they are valuable, let’s continue to participate, as numerous non-EU states do – not just Norway and Switzerland, but Canada and Israel. Obviously, in these circumstances, we should pay our share of the bill. The same goes for police, judicial and security co-operation. Britain’s intelligence services are unequalled in Europe, and it would plainly be wrong not to offer the fullest assistance to our allies.
10) British farming and fishing
For the avoidance of doubt, neither the CAP nor the CFP is, by any stretch of the imagination, in the “it works” category. I hope most Remainers are fair-minded enough to accept that, here at least, we could do better.
11) Controlled immigration
Bringing immigration under control doesn’t mean closing our borders. On the contrary, we should attract the world’s best talent. Once we leave the EU, and cease to be EU citizens, there will no longer be an automatic right to live in the UK – a right which, incidentally, can extend even to non-EU nationals, as we saw when the ECJ ruled that Britain could not deport Abu Hamza’s daughter-in-law following a criminal conviction, even though she was Moroccan, because her son was an EU citizen. Having taken back control, though, there is no reason why we shouldn’t agree reciprocal rights to work and study. I’d like to see EU nationals allowed to take up job offers here with a moratorium on benefits claims, and I’d like to extend that right to other friendly states, starting with Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
12) We pay what we owe
Britain is a country that honours its financial commitments. We want the EU to succeed (see point three). We should look at the final financial settlement as part of an amicable deal that will provide for a strong relationship.