Weighing up the Norway, Switzerland and Turkey options. Photo: Getty
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An EU explainer for the easily bored: what happens if we leave?

Doom, whisky, and getting lost in mazes: what are the options for the UK flouncing out of the European Union?

It's some as-yet-unspecified time in 2017. I'm in the ballot box – maybe.

What? Well, Estonia's had online voting for ten years, about a third of votes are cast online via an app, and it's popular with younger people. So who know, maybe we could catch up with them. Although then young people might actually vote...

Fine. I've downloaded the app, and I'm ready! In or out??!?!

Of what? The EU, right? Yes, although don't forget there's the "renegotiation" first so the EU might look quite different.

OK, so we've got whatever the EU looks like as "in" – what's "out"? A very good question. There's four main options. Let's start with the Norwegian model.

Let's! OMG Scandinavians are soooo buff :) No, not that kind of model. Norway is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which means it has access to the single market of the 28 EU member states.

Great, we can keep selling all those cars. Yes, and applying all the rules of the single market, ie. free movement of goods, people capital and services. Norway sell a lot of gas, oil and salmon to the EU – Vidar Helgesen, their minister for EU affairs, reckons the country provides Europe with 23m seafood meals a day, and they apply ALL the rules as well. But they don't get a say in making them.

All the rules? The vast majority. Agriculture is the big exception. According to Mr Helgesen, during the past 20 years, Norway has incorporated more than 10,000 EU rules into the EEA Agreement: roughly five acts of EU legislation for each day the Norwegian parliament has been sitting. It also has to pay into the EU budget.

Oh. To use an old Brussels chestnut, if you're not at the table, you're on the menu. And, to state the obvious, the UK doesn't have a bajillion squillion barrels of oil. Norway does.

OK, how about option two: Switzerland? You can make your own cuckoo-clock jokes: Switzerland has a close relationship with the EU based on a series of bilateral agreements, including a free trade deal signed in 1972. Switzerland is the EU's fourth largest trading partner, while the EU is Switzerland’s largest.

Sounds great! It's tempting. But they only get access to parts of the single market. And that doesn't include services, which is the part which is most interesting for the UK. Then last year, in a referendum, the country narrowly voted to reintroduce immigration quotas. After that, EU officials said Switzerland can't “cherry-pick” from the treaties.

So what happens? If the EU-Switzerland relationship were on Facebook, it'd be under "It's complicated". Politicians have until 2017 to figure out what to do. Any solution could set a precedent for what happens with a post-breakup UK. And they still pay a lot to the EU.

Alright. Option three? Turkey. It's in a customs union. So we could trade some goods without tariffs, etc, but not have to pay membership fees or bother with immigration. It was the first step in an EU accession program that stalled in 2002, and again, there's zero influence on anything the EU actually does.

Doesn't sound great. Also, bear in mind any of these options depend on the EU agreeing in a post-withdrawal negotiation – a bit like getting a divorce and then asking if you can still use the Wi-Fi, the bathroom three days a week and have your ex's loyalty-card points.

We could eavesdrop while using the bathroom. Right, all of these options rely on applying EU rules in the areas where you get the benefits, which is logical enough. If we left, those rules, standards, and plans would be decided without us in the room.

Unprecedented! No, it's not. We're not in the euro, and the countries that are still have meetings. So the UK Treasury used to formally instruct its permanent representation to send someone to sit outside the door "just in case they heard anything", according to someone who'd know.

What were they expecting? Nobody knows. In practice it meant senior British officials sitting in the corridor outside the room on floor 50 of the Council into the small hours of the morning. Totes embarrassing.

Floor 50? It's not that tall. It's just the rooms in all the EU-buildings are maze-like. Seriously, it's easier to find your way in space.

Currency union, borders, legal negotiations after an acrimonious split... this is reminding me of something... Right. Remember the Scottish referendum? And how the Scottish government said it’d like to stay in the EU, even while the Commission was all like “no you'd have to reapply like newbies”?

Nightmare. It would have been. As the Scotch Whisky Association points out, "the application of the EU's trade environment means Scotch has become more accessible to a far wider audience". It keeps a close eye on EU laws to make sure single malts can be sold across the single market. "Doubly important, as EU laws are sometimes used as the benchmark for other countries when considering new legislation," it adds. Again, businesses would still have to comply with EU standards to export goods there.

What if we just leave, completely? We could. We'd get a seat at the World Trade Organization, where we're currently represented as part of the EU. We could set up a free-trade deal with anyone who wanted one –although would you want to sign up with a country that had just flounced out of  a 28-country free-trade bloc? And there'd be total control of borders.

So that'll be option four. Yes, and Chris Patten summed it up nicely in a lecture in Oxford 15 years ago. "’Sovereignty’ – in the sense of unfettered freedom of action – is a nonsense. A man, naked, hungry and alone in the middle of the Sahara Desert is free in the sense that no one can tell him what to do. He is sovereign, then. But he is also doomed."

Frances Robinson has been covering the EU since 2006. Previously a staffer at the Wall Street Journal, she returned to the UK after a decade abroad to talk and write about the UK-EU relationship. 

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.