- Labour and Conservative MPs believe they can force a vote on staying in the European Economic Area.
- Staying in the EEA would allow Britain to retain full access to the Single Market.
- Only a small rebellion by Tory MPs is needed to overturn Theresa May’s parliamentary majority.
- New polling finds public is turning against a Hard Brexit.
LONDON — MPs from both Labour and the Conservatives are plotting to force a vote on Britain remaining in the European Economic Area (EEA) after Brexit in hope of avoiding a “cliff edge” exit from the EU.
MPs including Labour’s Chuka Umunna, Stephen Kinnock and Heidi Alexander believe there is a strong chance of Prime Minister Theresa May losing a Commons vote on the whether Britain should be a member of the EEA after Brexit, the Guardian reports.
The thinking among MPs who are pushing for a softer Brexit is that a backbench MP could table an amendment to the withdrawal bill, due to be put to Parliament in September, which would then trigger a vote on the question.
Umunna and others hope that May’s government will agree to sign up to the EEA on a temporary basis following Brexit, despite Number 10’s insistence that it does not intend to pursue an “off-the-shelf” transitional arrangement.
A Tory-Labour coaltion on the EEA could spell danger for May who has a parliamentary majority of just 13 with the help of the 10 DUP MPs in the Commons. Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary has already indicated he is considering tabling such an amendment, telling the Guardian he wants to “ensure it is possible to achieve transitional arrangements on the same basic terms — including the single market and the customs union.”
What is the EEA? And why does it matter?
The EEA is a group of countries including all EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. All members of the EEA — including those which aren’t members of the EU — enjoy full access to the European single market. Britain is currently a member of the EEA.
Supporters of Britain staying in the EEA argue it’s the most sensible option on the table as it will allow Britain to continue with the privileged single market access it enjoys now as an EU member state and protect business from a “cliff edge” Brexit as a result. Opponents of this route point out that EEA membership means accepting the rules of the European single market — the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people within the internal market. Being in the EEA as a non-EU member state would also force Britain to adhere to rules it no longer has a say in creating.
Despite Number 10’s insistence that government will not look to an existing model for life after Brexit, Chancellor Philip Hammond reportedly believes Britain doesn’t have enough time to negotiate a bespoke transitional arrangement and should be open to accepting the EEA as the basis of a transitional deal.
A legal question
The EEA debate is not without its complications, though. There is a big legal debate yet to be solved on whether the UK government is able to take Britain out of the EEA simply by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
The government’s position is that by triggering Article 50 Britain will automatically depart from both the European single market and EEA on the assumption that Britain is part of the EEA as an EU member state. However, the government faces opposition from lawyers and campaigners who argue Article 50 does not extend to Britain’s EEA membership, and that Prime Minister May must trigger Article 127 of the EEA agreement in order to exit the EEA.
“Article 127 of the EEA agreement states that you have to give at least 12 months notice if you want to leave. This suggests that the withdrawal process is separate to that of Article 50,” British Influence director deputy Jonathan Lis told Business Insider in December.The High Court ruled in February that it was too soon to make a judgment on this legal question.
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