Could Britain remain in EEA?

New Brexit legal action is being planned over the question of whether or not Britain leaving the EU would also mean it automatically leaving the wider EEA group of countries – potentially a crucial issue for expat rights. 

The BBC reports that a think tank, British Influence, is seeking to launch judicial review action for a ruling on the issue, arguing that the UK should not leave the European Economic Area without a separate MPs’ vote. 

The EEA includes all of the 28 EU states plus Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland and they are part of the EU’s single market and follow most of the EU rules but not parts of them such as the Common Agicultural Policy and the customs union. 

Leaving the customs union but remaining in the single market would mean Britain would have free trade with the EU countries but be free to set its own deals on trade tariffs for countries outside the EU. However EEA membership requires countries to remain signed up to principles of free movement of goods, services, money and people. 

It also means that rights of UK expats in the EEA and EEA expats in Britain would continue much the same. 

Lawyers consulted by the BBC agreed it does not automatically follow that leaving the EU – which was the subject of last June’s referendum and is triggered by invoking article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – automatically means leaving the EEA. They said there is a separate mechanism, article 127 of the 1994 Agreement on the EEA, which relates to that. Article 127 says that states leave the EEA by giving the other states 12 months’ notice of their wish to leave it. 

However the UK government disagrees, saying that the UK was only a party to the EEA agreement in its capacity as an EU member, so leaving the EU will automatically also mean leaving the EEA. 

If the court action goes ahead it may – along with the case led by campaigner Gina Miller on whether MPs must vote on article 50 – further put in doubt the government’s declared intention of starting the EU exit process before the end of March. 

If successful however, it might help resolve the problem of possible ‘interim arrangements’ for trade in the period between the UK leaving the EU – potentially in 2019 – and the UK and EU finalising a deal on long-term trading arrangements which most experts think will take much longer than this. 

See December’s issue of The Connexion newspaper, out now, for an in-depth interview with Gina Miller. 

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