Yesterday on Radio 4 inexplicably Michael Gove was given 3 minutes to speak uninterrupted about why we should vote to leave the EU. He was then interviewed and one of the elements of his many arguments was that if we leave the EU we would instead participate in the European Free Trade Area. To do so would mean we would need to join the European Free Trade Association, just as we leave the European Union. They are undoubtedly much slimmer as an organisation than the EU and more restricted in terms of their influence and decision making on behalf of member states. We may find this pleasing in some areas, and frustrating in others. Although I cannot begin to understand the detailed impact on our nation, I have been involved in organisations that have transferred their membership from one umbrella body to another. There are certainly gains and losses. The cost of membership of EFTA is also lower than the cost of membership for the EU. For example the Norwegian Government pays the equivalent of £1.74 per person wheras the UK Goverment pays around £111 per person to be part of the EU after all of the financial transactions are discounted. The more limited scope of EFTA also means that some of the costs we pay for EU activities will need to transfer back to additional work for Westminster as the decisions currently taken by the EU will need to be considered by our own Government in isolation. Our current Parliament costs £2Bn a year to operate, no one has yet calculated how much extra we would pay for a revised Parliament that deals with all laws alone.
There will inevitably be a need for organisations and businesses to operate within both the coat-tails of EFTA to ensure that the free trade is really benefiting business, and then also in the EU as this will remain a major market for our businesses to sell to, and buy from. This sort of dual focus will lead to costs that are currently not part of either our businesses or indeed our Government (our current membership of the EU includes the discussions with EFTA). It seems vital that if the likely destination for our nation is membership of EFTA that we are allowed to understand more about how that will work moving forward. Clearly for us to join EFTA would have a major impact on the Association and perhaps other states may follow? I wonder if this would put pressure on EFTA to consider how it operates and what it does? I seems vital that such consideration is factored into our own thinking as we approach 23rd June. I wonder if anyone will be willing to discuss this with us, the voters?