hard, soft or just right?
Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow Home Secretary, repeated a lie this week: “… the truth is you cannot have access to the Single Market without a measure of freedom of movement” (BBC, Andrew Marr Show, 11 Dec 2016). Let’s put that more generously, she is another who needs to mind her language (see Shorties-4) although she’s a well-educated lady who very likely does mean to deceive us by conflating two issues that were best kept apart.
Increasingly those who voted to remain in the EU accept that we are leaving and want us to get on with it, whatever exactly that means. One thing most people agree on is that we must retain access to the Single Market (SM) but some equate that with remaining members, a Brexit so “soft” you’d scarcely notice we’d left the EU. We’d still pay, we’d still be subject to the ECJ’s activist-judges’ rulings and the tortuous regulations that harm our growth, we’d still be paying a premium for EU farmers’ produce over world prices plus EU immigration would remain unchecked. Whatever subtle arguments some of us have for leaving most who voted Leave did so to control migration and/or to regain national sovereignty. They hoped the economy would not suffer too badly but were prepared to take the risk, perhaps only just.
But access to the SM is not in question. America, China, Japan, Korea – in fact the 85% of the world’s economies outside the SM – have unlimited access unless they’re subject to agreed sanctions for some reason, like Russia or Iran on occasion. If the EU tried to deny Britain access the WTO would intervene, so they won’t bother trying. There are, of course, non-tariff ways of discriminating against foreign imports, such as paperwork delays at customs, but these can be challenged or reciprocated. If the EU’s aggressive ideologues wanted a trade war their downfall would be hastened by citizens and corporations protesting as they lost their incomes. The Lisbon Treaty states it’s the other 27 national leaders (the Council) who must agree the terms, not Commission-appointed Michel Barnier; we should refuse to negotiate with him since he can’t be voted out.
The ‘sacrosanct’ Four Freedoms, essential to the SM and from which we’re not allowed to cherry-pick, are a myth, at best there are Three-and-a-Bit Freedoms. The SM discriminates against services, our most valuable export sector; why are ‘straight-banana’ style regulations for goods (also a myth but a great metaphor) way ahead of standardised services – for example, insurance-risk measurement – denying us markets where Britain would be most effective? Of the financial services we do export, two-thirds go to non-EU markets and they would anyway immediately qualify for EU ‘equivalence’ – we may lose some jobs but the problem is over-egged (see Manufacturing v. Services).
Average WTO tariffs are far less than fluctuations between the pound and the euro (especially recently) but they are significant in some areas, such as cars. It would make sense if the EU agreed some sector-specific trade-terms – a medium Brexit – if sense were to prevail.