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Exit option: something new?

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Introduction

While the Brexit debate often looks at current options for a relationship with the EU such as Switzerland, Norway, Turkey or America, it is possible to imagine an entirely new treaty. This would probably take the form of a free trade agreement (FTA) covering many diverse areas, from environmental cooperation to fisheries to car safety. For example, a new treaty could organise EU-UK migration in a way that is not free movement, but gives more movement rights than non-Europeans currently have. There could be agreement on bodies for sharing standards or allowing the UK informal influence in EU law, or non-voting seats in the EU institutions.

One economist, for example, argues Britain should end all of its tariffs with all countries after exit, so goods could be imported to Britain cheaply. This would be quick and require no negotiation as it requires nothing of other countries.

Strengths

  • The main strength would be flexibility and responsiveness. A brand new treaty or agreement that was not based on any current trade deal could be tailored exactly to fit the needs of Britain and the remaining EU. It could, for example, give the City of London more access to the EU markets than any non-EU country currently has. It could also keep mutually beneficial projects, such as science cooperation, going smoothly.
  • Some people who want an exit think that Britain would probably have a second referendum once its exit treaty had been negotiated, to see if the British people were happy with it. A new treaty entirely negotiated with the UK government would probably have the most democratic legitimacy, compared to copying the Norwegian or Swiss options, or a specific free trade deal like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Weaknesses

  • Negotiating a brand new trade deal with no blueprint to start from would take a lot of time, as it would mean discussing compromises in almost every area other than those where all parties agree from the start. A long delay, and uncertainty over the eventual outcome, could hurt investment and trade for both Britain and the EU.
  • There is a risk that starting from scratch could give Britain a worse end result than just using an existing option. All 27 EU members would have their own interests and demands, such as protecting the rights of their emigrants, or ensuring Britain keeps paying into EU structural funding, as well as trade and investment freedoms.
  • Because the option does not yet exist, it is hard for the Leave campaign to use it to convince voters that it is possible or desirable.