In a brief interview with Sky News, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson suggested that the UK become a temporary member of the European Economic Area (EEA) in order to avoid a total crisis in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Now that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pressing for the end of the parliamentary session, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looms ever closer. Former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, ever the optimist, does not think Brexit would be disastrous, even without a deal, but he did have some suggestions for the UK: join the EEA.
“I have no doubt that the UK will prosper after leaving [the EU],” he said. “As a person who believes in democracy, and as a person who believes in the United Kingdom, given its history, your enormous achievements and what you’ve been through, I have no doubt that you will prosper like never before. However, admittedly, you may have some problems in the short term. Markets might panic for a while, and I’m sure there will be people willing to blame certain difficulties on the UK having left the EU. But if you want to avoid these short-term problems, I think you [should] take the same route that we’ve taken, by becoming temporary members of the EEA agreement. Which would more or less, in my opinion, resolve all your difficulties without the problems you’d face with having a bilateral agreement.”
The interviewer correctly points out that the UK has made it clear that it does not want to participate in the single market, precluding the UK from having anything to do with the EEA. It also bears mentioning that EEA members are required to follow EU law with regards to trade, amongst other sectors, but non-EU actors within the EEA—such as Iceland—have no say in the crafting of that legislation.
Nonetheless, Sigmundur was undeterred, and pressed the point further.
“With the EEA agreement, you have the structure in place,” he responded. “It’s tried and tested for a quarter of a century now, so there would be no need for you to frantically, in a few weeks, make a new arrangement which you have no idea how will function. You will have everything ready. And you’ll be able to get the good things with not so many of the bad. This allows you to continue trading with the Euroepan Union, it allows you to have an open border in Ireland—luckily both countries are outside of Schengen—it allows you to protect citizen’s rights. At the same time, you can immediately, at the end of October, start making new free trade agreements. We have free trade agreements with countries all over the world. You’ll be in control of your fisheries, you can start making your own arrangements for agriculture and so on. You’ll be out of the ECJ [the European Court of Justice], so all of these main sticking points, these difficulties, will be dealt with. You’ll still have the ability to transition smoothly.”
Giving up on pressing the factual aspects of the EEA, the interviewer then asks if Sigmundur is implying that a no-deal Brexit would be a mistake.
“I think you can manage it quite well,” Sigmundur said, again emphasising that there will be vocal critics and the markets may be “scared for a while”. That said, Sigmundur added, “it will not take long for you to get back on track and be stronger than ever. But if you want to avoid these inconveniences, a temporary EEA membership might be an option.”
The interview in its entirety, which experienced some technical glitches, can be seen here and below, bearing in mind you will need to rewind the video a spell to find Sigmundur’s segment.
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