Things got a little more interesting this morning. The government is facing a new legal challenge from pro-single market group British Influence, who are arguing that invoking A50 and exiting the EU cannot automatically end our membership of the EEA, as this process can only be triggered through invocation of A127 of the EEA agreement. If this is deemed to be the case, it would pave the way for Britain's continued membership of the single market post-Brexit through membership of the EEA, essentially landing us something very close to the Norway option. Looking at all the known intentions of the government to date, this could be the answer to Theresa May's prayers, although it would be met with anger from a large part of the increasingly anti-single market Leave collective, who would surely paint it as a undemocratic betrayal, and EU membership in-all-but-name.
This has the potential to be the most significant development since the referendum. The media, the politicians and the public are slowly catching up with the fact that negotiating a comprehensive trade deal that replaces our membership of the single market and gets around the trade facilitation issues from exiting the customs union is impossible within A50's two years. The realisation is that there may only be two broad ways of doing Brexit, one is to utilise the EEA agreement or something very much like it, and the other is to sever all ties and fall back on WTO rules, which would get things over with quickly but could cause enormous and needless damage to Britain's economy. There is perhaps a third option, which would be to stay in the EU for for the foreseeable future whilst extended negotiations take place, but this would surely be even more unacceptable and politically difficult, dragging things on for years to come, and all the time the risk of no agreement being made and defaulting to WTO rules would persist.
I say catching up because I sort of said this toward the start of the year, again before the referendum, and again after it, although I claim no credit as a whole bunch of bloggers have been saying this for much longer. Richard North in particular came to this conclusion as much as three years ago in the first versions of his exit plan, Flexcit.
If what British Influence are suggesting is found to be correct, it really changes things quite a lot. There would be no need to negotiate a trade agreement with the EU in the first instance, and the time constraint of A50 would be no longer be relevant when we did. In theory, we could use the A50 period just to get out of the EU and the remit of the ECJ, and to make sure that single market membership could be maintained through the EEA agreement, making the whole thing much, much easier for everybody involved.
Then again, this would require the EU-27 to agree with this interpretation, and allow us to take this route, which certainly cannot be guaranteed. Then there is the fact that EEA membership outside the EU would be contingent on membership of EFTA, which might not be straightforward. It also rubs up against the issue of freedom of movement to an extent, although as we know by now, there is some scope to limit freedom of movement not just within the EEA, but more than people realise within the EU as well.
Time will tell how influential this development becomes, but it is beginning to feel like some kind of progress and broad trajectory may be forming. Other stories from last week add to this. A group of 81 British lawmakers have written to Donald Tusk asking that assurances are made as to the post-Brexit status of both British ex-pats in the EU and EU citizens residing in the UK. Polish Prime minister Beata Szydlo has said in an interview that the EU must compromise to secure a deal that suits both sides, and promised to be a "constructive partner" to Britain in the negotiations.
After weeks of basically nothing positive happening, in just a couple of days we have at least seen glimmers of people coming together and trying to make progress. Let's hope that it continues, and that we may have some sense of certainty by the new year.