Britain could tempt EU members who are unhappy at the prospect of ever-closer union to form a friendly club with neighbours on the outside, a leading Brexiteer has suggested.
Daniel Hannan said Eurosceptic countries like Poland and Denmark could be tempted away to join an “outer tier” with nearby countries like Morocco, Israel, Ukraine and Iceland.
The arm’s-length association would be loosely linked to the EU on trade, defence and political co-operation, the Tory MEP for the south east of England proposed.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said the plan should be attractive to the Brussels leaders calling for greater integration following Donald Trump’s warnings over Nato and the European project, as it gives refuseniks a chance to leave on friendly terms
“We don’t want the EU to collapse on our doorstep: quite apart from the fact that the countries involved are our friends, a disorderly downfall would hurt our economy,” he said.
“We know that excessive rigidity risks such a collapse.
“So let’s use Brexit to set a precedent, creating an outer tier linked to the EU by free trade, military alliance and intergovernmental co-operation.
“Perhaps one or two other existing EU states might transition into that outer tier.
“Isn’t it in everyone’s interests for them to be able to do so with minimum disruption, leaving the federalists free to complete their vision?”
The EU had “preferred to lose its second largest financial contributor” than give in to former prime minister David Cameron at the negotiating table, he said.
“We wanted something called ‘a Europe of nations’, a broad free-trade area in which independent states could collaborate.
“And, indeed, you’d have to have been pretty eccentric to object to that vision. The trouble is, that was not on offer.”
Mr Hannan said Britain should now act like a “flying buttress” by supporting the EU from outside its political structures while retaining access to the single market, with the model offered to others.
“Such a status that could then be extended to any other nearby state - not just Iceland and Switzerland but, in time, Morocco, Israel, Ukraine and, more pertinently, other EU countries that wanted to swap full membership for something looser.”
Mr Hannan noted Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, has recently proposed that members hand more powers to Brussels, particularly on financial and military matters.
Meanwhile the US president “thinks the best thing is for the EU to fall apart” and needed persuading to commit to Nato by Theresa May, he said.
Mr Tusk’s vision, paired with EU leaders’ unwillingness to relinquish powers once they have acquired them, meant an alternative form of membership is needed for some states, Mr Hannan said.