George Freeman claims EFTA is the best alternative Brexit plan
Since January 1 this year, the UK is no longer a member of the EU single market and customs union. The EU’s four freedoms – the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people – no longer apply to the UK. In the UK, Remainers appear to have moved on – because as of yet nobody has started planning a route back to full EU membership.
However, Alistair Carmichael, the Lib Dem MP for Orkney and Shetland, recently said Britain should join EFTA, the organisation with access to the EU’s single market but without membership of the bloc, as soon as possible.
The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is a regional trade organisation and free trade area consisting of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
The organisation operates in parallel with the EU, and all four member states participate in the single market and are part of the Schengen Area.
However, they are not party to the EU’s customs union.
In 2017, Switzerland embarked on a campaign to convince the UK to join.
The former President of the EFTA court, Swiss jurist Carl Baudenbacher, held a series of talks in London, hoping to draw as much support as possible.
The Swiss jurist was keen to raise the understanding of how his court worked and challenge the view it was simply a vehicle to implement decisions of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Switzerland’s push to persuade Britain to join EFTA before Brexit pact
Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael
The EFTA court is the equivalent of the ECJ for Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, who are part of the European Economic Area but not members of the EU.
Its three judges oversee the application of EEA law – a copy of many EU laws – in those countries, each of which sends one judge.
The UK had previously said it would have not joined something that worked in parallel with ECJ rulings.
Writing for the London School of Economics (LSE) at the time, Mr Baudenbacher said: “The EFTA court has its own voice and on essential questions of European single market law it has gone its own way.
“Examples can be found in the law of the fundamental freedoms, competition law, collective labour law, internet law or consumer protection law – to name just a few areas.
“As a court of three, the EFTA court cannot decree. It must convince its audiences.”
He added the addition of a British judge to the court would have made it less likely for the EFTA court to be “outgunned” by the ECJ.
He wrote: “Observers have remarked that it has developed its own style. It is clear that with a British judge, the EFTA court could further strengthen its profile without giving up the overall goal of realising a homogeneous European Economic Area.”
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Swiss jurist Carl Baudenbacher
The European Court of Justice
Despite many legal experts pushing for Britain to join the organisation, as they believed it would have been impossible to agree and establish a totally new dispute mechanism, or court, before the end of the transition period, the Brexit trade deal struck on Christmas Eve appears to be taking back full control from the ECJ.
The UK was adamant it would no longer be under the jurisdiction of the ECJ but the EU wanted to keep this in place to ensure it could ask for sanctions against Britain if it felt London was undercutting European consumers and businesses.
The UK appears to have got its way, with the deal planning for “binding enforcement and dispute settlement mechanisms”.
Express.co.uk understands from one well-placed Westminster insider that the ECJ aspect was a key factor for many hardline Brexiteers.
Former Labour MP Gisela Stuart, who quit the party over her euroscepticism and who now sits in the House of Lords, tweeted: “Congratulations to the Brexit negotiation teams on both sides.
“Sets the scene for a respectful and good future relationship.
“Key point for me is that our courts and Parliament will have the final say and not the ECJ.”
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Reform UK Party chairman and former MEP Richard Tice said: “Brexit compromise: elements neither side will like.
“Subject to detail we appear free politically, free of ECJ, foreign policy and defence but more linked than I wanted on the level playing field, state aid and fishing.
“We will have to find ways to deal with this in future. But it’s done.”
Despite Mr Baudenbacher’s push for Britain to join, Swiss Prime Minister, Guy Parmelin, addressed the possibility of the UK joining the trade area – saying it could be “risky” as the UK would “dominate” given the size of its economy.
Speaking last year, as he was serving as Swiss Economy Minister, Mr Parmelin claimed he was open to the idea of talks with the UK but wasn’t sure Britain “needed” to join.
Mr Parmelin said: “I have not heard that this is needed by Britain. If Britons want that, we will review it, but I believe it would be risky.
“Given its size, Britain would dominate the rest of EFTA.”