The Case for EFTA

Why the UK should join the European Free Trade Association

Last week, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab met with his Norwegian counterpart Ine Eriksen Søreide.  Much of what was discussed, however, should not only be welcomed but actively encouraged to go beyond in strengthening UK-Nordic relations. Issues relating to NATO spending commitments, the Northern Defense Strategy, the regional security threat posed by Russia, and the climate crisis ahead of the COP26 climate conference were all discussed at the meeting on 10 March.

2021 is an important year for British and Norwegian relations marking the 60th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty’s enforcement, the 30th anniversary of the signing of its Protocol on Environmental Protection, and the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the United Kingdom’s Arctic Research Station in Svalbard.  However, our long-standing relationship with Norway should extend beyond our ancestral connections and strong diplomatic ties towards further economic cooperation and shared status as members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

Since 1 January 2021 this year, the United Kingdom has no longer been a member of the EU single market and the customs union.  That is not to say we should shut our doors off to Europe, or not push for free trade agreements around the world.  As a member of EFTA, the United Kingdom could make its own free trade deals as it would not be part of the EU’s Customs Union regulations.

The argument for EFTA membership has been dragged through the mud, especially during the withdrawal process as “pay no say” and other slogans damaged how people viewed the EFTA option. In reality European law would have no jurisdiction in Britain following the decision to leave the European Court of Justice and both the EFTA Surveillance Authority and the EFTA Court rulings would only be advisory to member states.  We as an independent nation would only have to accept laws relating to the Single Market if we the United Kingdom chose to partake in membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). The United Kingdom’s relationship with the EU would be a simply economic one, not a political one.

We have seen little support towards tireless campaigns to re-join the EU, the 2016 vote was absolute. Pro-Europeans should look forwards and begin planning a route to strengthening relations with Europe. For Eurosceptics, EFTA provides the United Kingdom with the perfect balance of free trade, sovereignty and gives exemption to institutions such as the European Court of Justice. Membership could help move beyond the divisions that have plagued the United Kingdom since the EU referendum in 2016.  It is not like we are closed off or become shut out from Europe.  As of July 2020, EFTA have stated that they will welcome the return of the United Kingdom.

Writer and Commentator Ben Kelly sums it up best in his Telegraph article “Let’s have a deal and friends with benefits post-Brexit by joining EFTA” (30 September 2020).  Kelly writes that to avoid a “new age of red tape, bureaucracy, officials and barriers”, now is the time to “reconsider a future in the European Free Trade Association, the first step towards a more pragmatic way of relating to the EU than the scorched earth method we’ve resorted to.”  Pragmatism will lie at the route of efforts to re-join EFTA, reconciling both the country and relations with Europe, securing jobs and boosting our economy, and taking steps towards a freer and fairer society.

About the author

Written by Alfie Green who was the Foreign Affairs Spokesperson for Centre.