Brexit: UK must join European Free Trade Association (Efta) to restore freedom of movement with EU and access to single market – Kenny MacAskill

The Brexit delusion had been exposed long before the Liz Truss debacle but former Bank of England governor Mark Carney recently encapsulated the UK’s situation: “In 2016 the British economy was 90 per cent the size of Germany’s. Now it is less than 70 per cent.” What an indictment of the folly, what a cost we’re paying.

Joining Efta would give the UK access to the single market and enable public services and companies to employ much needed staff from the EU (Picture: Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images)
Joining Efta would give the UK access to the single market and enable public services and companies to employ much needed staff from the EU (Picture: Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images)

There’s an obvious solution and that’s to join the European Free Trade Association (Efta), currently comprised of Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. That would address the travails that the UK’s facing without rejoining the EU, which would be politically problematic for all the major British parties. Membership’s available within months, if not weeks.

It would allow for access to the EU’s single market – so desperately needed for our exporters – restore free movement of labour, which is badly required in every employment sector from care and hospitality to agriculture and manufacturing, and resolve the intractable Irish protocol problems with both Britain and Ireland in the same trade tent.

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And it’s also the solution for an independent Scotland. Twiddling your thumbs for five years pending rejoining the EU’s absurd. It would be preferable if England and Wales were also members but even if they still continued to prefer a steady decline to a pragmatic solution, it’s necessary for Scotland. It would enable a trade deal with the rest of the UK but also allow for access to the EU single market.

Instead, the obvious solution’s ignored and the Good Ship Brexit continues taking in water, all whilst its political leaders copy Nelson putting a telescope to their blind eye. We’re not heading for Singapore-by-the-Channel but going under, which is why action’s needed, and fast.

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A trade deal with the USA is still to materialise, though when it does then kiss goodbye to the NHS and say hello to chlorinated chicken. In the interim, the supposed triumphs of deals with Australia and New Zealand have stabbed farmers in the back and are a prelude for worse to come with India. The latter’s pesticides will make even chlorinated chicken seem palatable.

But still the delusion continues with the new Sunak regime almost being outdone by Starmer in a commitment to continued folly. The Labour leader’s intransigence hit a new low with his comments on immigration and the NHS. The only qualms most have about immigration in the health service is the denuding of developing nations of their most talented people. But we need staff at all levels and in all sectors. Scotland has a labour crisis, and employers know that, even if the Labour leader’s blinded by political dogma.

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The argument against Efta is that you’d still be stuck with EU rules, becoming a rule-taker not rule-maker. But rules are required and, as we’re seeing, the EU’s are better than what’s now having to be grasped to simply stay afloat. It also keeps the UK out of the political union that many bitterly oppose.

Going back politically into the EU isn’t acceptable to Leavers but Efta membership would satisfy many. For Remainers like me, it’s a solution and we can see where the land lies with the EU in the future. There’s none so blind as those who will not see the obvious and pragmatic solution.

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Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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