Wouldn’t it be good if we could pick the cherries we liked from the EU bowl and leave the rotten ones that give us indigestion? And what would be wrong with that, provided every nation could do the same? The cherries nobody likes would be thrown in the rubbish or recycling bins (there may be parts worth reusing). If the inedible ones could be left aside the best things about the EU could flourish and be improved and the others would wither.
Rather than EU à la carte we are expected to tolerate an expensive, sick-making set menu. Instead each part should have to justify its role according to its support; what is the point of foisting unpopular features on unwilling members? Those that want to share their currencies or armies, for example, should be free to do so. There may be exceptions where the interests of the Continent itself really matter, environmental ones especially, but these are likely to be limited and specific; those that simply benefit the mandarins would be the first to perish.
So which are the tasty cherries? In the education and research sector Erasmus and Horizon2020, in security probably Europol, and there are others we’d like to pick. But perhaps the biggest cherry in the bowl is the Single Market (SM), a great idea – obviously, because it was largely the British that instigated it. Is there any idea the EU cannot wreck in its implementation? Overcoming all those finicky foreign rules that prevented our exports, especially our services, should have enhanced our growth and prosperity by converging regulatory systems. Ideally this would have been achieved by deregulation where possible, not more regulation. But the EU is largely staffed by legislators and regulators plus their support staff and they are highly productive in making laws and rules. They think that’s their job but it would be better if they spent a lot more of their time checking what rules we don’t need rather than piling on new ones.
Yes, the SM does make things easier for businesses that already conform or have the resources to adapt – mostly the larger corporations. Even better for the behemoths is to bend the market to their own ways, to lobby Brussels to export their standards across the Continent. This has the dual benefit of making their products easier to sell and raising barriers to smaller companies and those outside the protectionist walls. The SM is a pretty rotten cherry as it stands and its benefits are grossly exaggerated.
The EU started as a free trade area, now it’s threatening to end free trade with Britain to discourage others from leaving. This is not in the interests of its own citizens, only of Brussels’ bullies. Why does their survival override everything else? The uncertainty of the present position is damaging for British business but what have we got to lose by leaving the SM? Far less than the EU. We could buy food, clothing, solar panels and much else at lower prices if we ceased to protect EU manufacturers – this would particularly benefit the poorer people in our own country.
Actually any EU tariffs imposed on Britain have to be at the same level as on other countries (WTO Most Favoured Nation rules). So the EU’s ability to make life tough for the UK would mean sabotaging its trade with everyone else in the world. Even if Britain were a small trading partner for the EU, the EU would be shooting itself in the foot with the rest of the world. At worst we face relatively small tariffs (average 3%), more than offset by saving our membership fee, which we could choose to use by supporting our exporters in imaginative ways (not by dumping of course).
We also need to get this in perspective, 90% of our economy has nothing to do with “accessing” the SM yet 100% has to conform to its rules, which is wasteful. Other countries access the SM perfectly well by conforming to its rules only where they need to, just as we and EU members must do when accessing their markets. Imagine a farmers’ market visited by a French onion seller, should he be permitted to sell his produce in kilos or forced to sell them in pounds, or should the other sellers be forced to use kilos? Is this the kind of decision that Brussels should get involved with? If so it should be to ensure either measure is recognised. The EU has now made vacuum cleaners with motors more powerful than 900 watts illegal; masquerading as an environmental measure it more likely a German lobbying win against the success of Dyson whose lobbying against this measure failed against Bosch and others.
The SM is entangled with the Customs Union which prevents us agreeing free trade deals of our own while failing to agree them on behalf of its members with any of the top 10 world economies outside, though it seems close to a deal with Japan at last. It also imposes free movement of labour; why shouldn’t this be a separate cherry? This is not a necessary “freedom” related to frictionless trade but a giant step towards the superstate.