Its fair to say that many people in the UK (on both sides of the referendum argument) have a pretty simplistic view of how Europe works. They believe that its a binary choice – you are either ‘all in’ – the EU, Single Market, ECJ, Customs Union etc or all out – cutting all ties to ‘Europe’.
In fact, the nature of ‘Europe’ is far more complex.
The UK doesn’t need to be in the EU to be in the single market, it can retain membership of the EEA (European Economic Area) via EFTA (the European Free Trade Association).
It doesn’t need to be subject to the ECJ, instead it could dock to the separate, more sovereignty-friendly EFTA court. It doesn’t need to be part of any EU military force, just retain its membership of NATO. The UK doesn’t need to be in EUROPOL, it can sign a co-operation agreement with that body, and also continue to co-operate with European countries on crime prevention via the UNODC and Interpol.
But what about other forms of European co-operation? There are a galaxy of bodies out there which the UK is *already signed up to* which will allow the UK to co-operate with other European nations.
Firstly, we have UNECE (The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) which discusses (amongst other things) the environment, reducing non-tariff barriers, trade facilitation and promoting Standardization as well as the rules and regulations around the automotive industry.
This body has 57 participating States – compare that to the 28 EU member states (soon to be 27)! and it has its own Parliamentary Assembly.
The Council of Europe has 47 Member States, a Parliamentary Assembly, and importantly, a Committee of Ministers from all member states. It deals with many issues from cybercrime prevention, prevention of human trafficking, pharmaceutical safety standards, blood transfusion and organ transplantation standards, Human rights, democracy, criminal extradition and the European Court of Human Rights.
The above is not even an exhaustive list of the bodies, alliances and groups that the UK will be a member of after we leave the EU. We will still be able to co-operate with the EU on all important issues and those who say we are ‘leaving Europe’ are at best misinformed, or otherwise deliberately lying.