UK and EU should consider External Association relationship to resolve Brexit issues – Gay Mitchell

External Association’ would allow Britain to cut loose from EU while retaining complementary arrangements

The UK and the EU should adopt a form of ‘External Association’ in relation to Brexit, according to Gay Mitchell, former MEP, TD and Minister for European Affairs, as it could be enough to allow Britain cut loose from the EU, while also retaining necessary and complementary arrangements.

Making his comments while speaking at Leicester’s De Montfort University Business and Law School in the UK, Mr. Mitchell said that ‘External Association’, a phrase coined by former President of Ireland Eamon De Valera, would calm nerves and remove current uncertainty and speculation. It would also, crucially, not encourage other EU States to contemplate leaving. In fact, it would let the remaining EU States press ahead with an ‘ever closer’ Union, including provisions to underpin the Euro.

Mr. Mitchell was invited to speak at De Montfort University Business and Law School to discuss a variety of EU business issues with academics and students. He was speaking alongside Jose Gil Robles, former MEP and President of the European Parliament, and former German MEP Barbara Weiler.

The full script of Mr. Mitchell’s speech is outlined below, in which he outlines five aspects that would allow ‘External Association’ to work for the parties involved:

 The Danger:

As Kenneth Minogue points out in his short book Politics, the history of Europe is one of preparing for war, being at war, or dealing with the aftermath of war. Bruce Russet and John Oneal in their book Triangulating Peace demonstrate that three principles help explain the likelihood of war or peace: economic interconnectedness, democratic traditions, and membership in international organisations. Where all three factors are at their most favourable the potential for war is reduced by 71%.

The break-up of former Yugoslavia in the 1990’s is a stark reminder of what can happen when interdependence breaks down. The British people made a Herculean contribution to freeing Europe from the grips of terror.  These gains were made by blood, sweat, toil and tears and must not be put at risk by an unleashing of instability.

In the first half of the 20th century 60 million Europeans were killed by war. Was Europe better under the Hohenzollerns, the Romanovs, the Hapsburgs, and the Ottomans? Under Hitler and Stalin? There were military coups in Greece and Spain in the second half of the 20th century.  The Berlin Wall only started to come down in 1989.  Was Europe really a better place then?

Right now Europe and North America are stable.  The regions of Syria, the Middle East, and parts of Africa are in turmoil.  In the South China Sea, Sino-Russian joint naval exercises are meant to be a warning to those countries of the region which are re-arming and cosying up to the US.  The East China Sea has its own tensions. Tensions can build up in Europe too and we take European stability for granted at our peril.  Peace and stability must be constantly nurtured.  Interdependence is the key.

This is why the EU will not countenance any arrangement with Britain that makes it attractive for other Member States to contemplate leaving.  Any expectation that some states could continue to have existing rights but not existing responsibilities is a non-runner.  The dangers this would create for all of Europe should be evident to the UK side too.

 The Future:

That said, on the presumption that Brexit will go ahead, what could a future UK/EU relationship look like? Norway is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) but Norway was never an EU member and therefore started with a clean sheet.  For the UK to join the EEA, for example, would involve a de-coupling from the EU as well as lengthy negotiations for EEA membership.  This may be an impossible task and at the very least is a formula for speculation and instability.  Perhaps something new should be tried.  Both sides could borrow a term from De Valera’s lexicon and consider a form of External Association.  But what might External Association look like?

The biggest problem seems to be that of retaining access to the Single Market for the UK, while delimiting Free Movement of people to Britain under Single Market rules. Perhaps the following might work:

  1. The EU already agrees with the UK that some changes can be introduced:  Restrictions on movement of non-EU nationals; safeguards on bailout contributions from non-Eurozone countries, in the event of crisis; child benefit restrictions for children who do not live in the same EU State as a parent; no binding requirement for the UK to participate in an “ever closer” Union; a requirement to amend proposed EU laws if 55% of national parliaments so request (a Red Card); and an emergency brake on payments of social benefits to immigrants from other EU States if there are strains on public services or the employment market.
  2. In addition to these, and as a way forward, each Member State could be allowed to restrict free movement at times of immigration surges and agreement could be reached that no automatic right would be provided for future new EU state citizens to travel to the UK (or UK citizens to travel to these new Member States).  Each new Member State and Britain could then agree on mutual travel arrangements between their states.
  3. The Acquis Communitaire of the EU is its accumulated legislation, court decisions and principles, all of which the EU, including Britain has already agreed.  The Acquis would continue to apply thereby avoiding years of uncertainty and enormous turbulence, so too would budget contributions and receipts.
  4. The national parliaments of EU States already have an early warning system (a Yellow Card).  If one third of the Member State parliaments raise an objection to proposed EU legislation it must be reviewed.  If a majority of parliaments do so (Orange Card) then the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament can vote the proposal down.  The British Parliament could be given continued rights to participate with the Union’s national parliaments in the Yellow/Orange/Red Card system.
  5. UK representation in the European Parliament, Council of Ministers and Commission would cease, but not in the European Court of Justice which adjudicates on rules (as the rules would continue to apply), and the EU Court of Auditors which checks how the EU budget is spent (as budget contributions and payments to, for example, British farmers would continue).  In addition, British civil servants could continue, on a quota basis, to service EU institutions to help police the Acquis.


A form of External Association could be enough to allow Britain cut loose from the EU, but retain necessary and complementary arrangements.  Crucially, it would not encourage other EU States to contemplate leaving as they would not continue to have representation at political level.  Indeed, the remaining EU States could press ahead with “ever closer” Union, including provisions to underpin the Euro.  In the interim a joint EU/UK declaration that External Association is the way forward might calm nerves and remove current uncertainty and speculation.

 Gay Mitchell is a former Minister for European Affairs at the Department of the Taoiseach and at the Department of Foreign Affairs and was an MEP from 2004 – 2014. He is currently a European Political and Public Affairs Adviser with Unique Media.