Study: Many Alternatives to EU Membership for Britain

The Union Flag flies next to the European Flag outside the European Commission building in central London
Reuters/Neil Hall

A leading think tank has released a report on the opportunities Britain will have if it votes to leave the European Union.

The Institute of Economic Affairs has published the document detailing four different choices following independence, now that “Brexit” is a serious possibility in the next Parliament.

Calling the debate that has taken place so far ‘political grandstanding’, the IEA said it has released the report to include serious economic analysis which has been absent so far.

Join EFTA, leave EEA

It includes the winner of the IEA Brexit Prize, which called for the UK to negotiate membership of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) while remaining outside the European Economic Area. The submission called for a ‘Great Repeal Bill’ to bring about a comprehensive review of UK laws and, where appropriate, repeal EU regulations.

While the Conservative Party have insisted that the Single Market is vital for British interests, the author of the prize-winning submission argues that it is membership of the single market which would mean retaining almost all of the “most onerous and controversial aspects of EU membership.”

Fundamentally, Brexit must be considered a political rather than an economic decision although the debate leading up to any referendum is sure to pick up where the European election campaign of 2014 left off where voices from business were key to each side’s arsenal.

The report also estimates that the UK economy would experience a £1.3bn increase in GDP.

Stay in EEA

Another option suggests the best path to take would be an off-the-shelf alternative which already exists: that the UK should retain membership of the EEA to take advantage of existing trade institutions. The author argues that this would allow the UK a formal role in the EU/EEA discussions which is ‘likely to prove popular with the British public’.

But with the EU making very bad economic decisions, as highlighted by the case of the eurozone crisis and potential Grexit as well as Britain not having a seat at the World Trade Organisation, there is a sense that this would be a poor substitute for real, radical change following independence.

The Commonwealth

One of those options has been pushed strongly by UKIP and has the advantage of emotional ties, as well as political and economic benefits. Following UK membership of the EU, many ties were cut with Commonwealth countries in favour of those we tied ourselves to politically.

It calls for Britain to put the Commonwealth and the wider Anglosphere at the forefront of its trading plans, saying the UK should re-engage with the world based on free trade agreements and bilateral investment. The key advantage of the Commonwealth is the solid base of common law, language and a business environment which is viewed as being low in corruption.

Pure laissez faire

Perhaps the most daring proposal leaves politics completely out of its argument and bases its strategy on pure laissez faire economics – a concept which would be welcomed by theorists and academics but may seem utterly terrifying to the general public, and thus the politicians whom rely on their votes.

It says that the debate over Brexit has been too focused on the concessions that the Prime Minister may be able to obtain from Brussels when the UK should be looking to lead the way in how the whole world embraces economic reform, embracing and forming a Global Free Trade Alliance.

In the aftermath of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty being triggered, politicians must focus on domestic measures to ready itself for the unknown while establishing parting terms with its European neighbours. This means, it says, favouring economic liberalism at home and free trade abroad with EU member states treated as importantly as other countries and reviving Multilateralism as opposed to the unilateralism or bilateralism suggested by the other options.

Commenting on the report, Professor Philip Booth, Editorial and Programme Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “For too long the debate about our relationship with the EU has centred on the question of ‘Britain – In or Out?’

“It is not possible to take a sensible decision on whether or not to leave the EU unless the alternatives are clearly understood. This report lays out four clear paths which, in different ways, will enable Britain to have a free and prosperous economy outside the European Union.”