We were aware that Richard North’s Flexcit submission probably wasn’t going to win. Reservations were evident from the start. Conclusions were drawn that the nature and arguments of the submission were at odds with the economic bias of the IEA. That we knew and anticipated.
But what we, (and nearly all the contestations who entered – just short of 150), expected was for it to be a fair competition. It’s not unreasonable to expect that everyone should have had a chance.
With the publication of the final six shortlisted (another rule change that was unexpectedly announced half way through the competition) it’s becoming clear that being fair the IEA prize most certainly was not. All of the final six papers breach the original competition rules, in some cases strongly. In addition Richard points out in a very revealing analytic piece there are also some other far more serious concerns.
There are in essence three widely publically acknowledged ways of leaving the EU, the pros and cons of which were addressed in the FleXit plan as per the competition requirements.
The first way of leaving are variations on the “Norway Option” (EFTA/EEA), the second is the Swiss bilateral agreements and the third is what I consider the “Life on Mars” option; we are all involved in a car crash, enter a coma and wake up in the early '70s. This is also known as the “just repeal the ECA and the WTO will just rescue us” option.
As Richard notes, the final six which were shortlisted all considered a completely different (but crucially the same) option – "EFTA only". The final six argue to pursue the Swiss arrangement via EFTA membership:
It should be noted that EFTA membership is not required to pursue the so-called "Swiss option", as the Association played no role in the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU. This we know from René Schwok, writing in an official EFTA anniversary book. In other words, the "Swiss option" doesn't need EFTA membership.It is an argument that is so rare, if not unique, that there are very few academic papers on it (if at all) and an argument that largely cannot be found expressed on the internet in any form whatsoever - until the conclusion of the Brexit prize (very likely because it's completely unworkable).
In fact, the advantage of the bilateral route for Switzerland is that it allowed her to make her own agreements without being bound by the EFTA framework. Thus, the only advantage the UK would gain from the “EFTA-only” option would be the ability to tap into EFTA's existing trade deals. But if that was the sole motivation, it is unlikely that the UK would be accepted as a returning member.
In the age of the internet, we would expect academic papers to rely heavily on it in terms of research. Indeed there are a number of passages in the final six – including the winning entry that are very familiar to this blogger. But that is to be expected. Any information posted on here is for free use.
What is unexpected to say the least is that all six have come up with the same argument which is not freely available on the internet nor indeed widely argued within eurosceptic circles - and hasn’t been as long as many of us have campaigned against EU membership.
One such paper showing such “original thought” is fair enough, two could be a coincidence. More than that and we’re suspicious. That six have entered, then have been shortlisted and they're the only ones…well we don’t need to make clear the statistic improbabilities of that.
We also note that Roger Bootle, one of the original judges, stepped down after complaints that he expressed himself in a way that was unfit to be a judge during an ongoing competition. Interestingly it is also understood that the judges only managed to see and evaluate the final six papers - they were vetted in advance. Odd then that the only reference to an "EFTA only" solution aka "EFTA + bilaterals" was made by Roger Bootle published while the IEA competition was ongoing.
For those whom wish EU exit, the IEA has serious questions to answer about the conduct of its competition and whether it invited participants to enter papers on a false premise. Thus I currently have an ongoing complaint with them requesting that they publish all of the original 17 shortlisted so we can come to our own conclusions.
I was born into the then EEC (the UK joined 18 months earlier) so I don't have direct experience of the lies that took us in - I can only observe it from a generation apart. However what is clear is that the lies continue; history is repeating itself. For eurosceptics who genuinely want EU exit our furrow as a result is being ploughed a little lonelier.
If the IEA competition was a banana we wonder whether it would comply with Commission Regulation (EC) No 2257/94