Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The binary little world of Spiked online

Writing in spiked today, Mick Hume asserts that "To be a member of the Single Market, a nation must submit to key EU rules and control from Brussels. As David Davis pointed out this week, the EU has insisted ‘you cannot stay in the Single Market and have control of your borders. There’s no sign of them changing their mind.’ So the growing insistence among Tory Remainers that Britain must somehow remain in the Single Market is a coded demand for the UK to Remain an EU member state in all but name".

This is, putting it politely, total issue illiteracy. As a regulatory superpower the EU is in a position to set out the conditions of market entry. In or out of the single market those same rules will apply if we want to export to the EU. And given that half our exports go to the EU it's safe to assume that we do. The question, therefore, is whether we are part of that rule making process and whether we have an effective right of veto.

Outside of the single market you are a passive recipient of those rules without a firewall like Efta to put the brakes on Council decisions which determine the meaning of those rules. As a member of the single market the process of adopting EU rules is very much a system of co-determination because the single market is a collaborative venture between Efta and the EU. Every rule is debated and negotiated through the EEA secretariat. As a whole it represent only abut 20% of the EU body of law - none of which is under the direct jurisdiction of the ECJ.

Should we leave the single market we will still enter a comprehensive FTA with the EU - and like all agreements of its type it will establish either a court or a joint committee for the adoption of rules because free trade is contingent on regulatory harmonisation. Any bespoke agreement would have to replicate most of the institutional functionality of the EEA agreement simply because we have been in the EU for forty years. We are not actually capable of repatriating all of our administration. The process of leaving will have to be gradual.

The short of it is, even an FTA would make us a partial member of the single market - but I rather suspect that without the combined clout of Efta we would have substantially less power to veto the more intrusive rules while losing a great many trade advantages.

As to the assertion that you cannot have single market membership without freedom of movement, this is a myth put about by both sides. The headbangers do not want to be in the single market (mainly because they haven't understood it) and the remainers say the same because they have always been keen to kill the idea that there is a viable solution to many of the intractable problems created by Brexit. The truth of the matter is that there are unilateral safeguard measures in the EEA agreement and they are there to be used. We can negotiate sectoral adaptations and convert them into a permanent waiver. If we want to keep an open border in Northern Ireland this is probably the only way to do it.

Furthermore, the repeated assertion that single market membership is remain in all but name is a lie. Mick Hume is, probably wilfully, repeating a stone cold untruth. That though is not surprising coming from Spiked who think the grubby details of Brexit are just for the technocracts and the "metropolitan elite" - which is actually why leavers don't have a voice in shaping Brexit. Nothing they say can be taken seriously.

I would once again point out that the single market may not be optimal but it is a fact of life. We cannot pretend otherwise and if we really do want to leave the EU it's the safest and fastest way to do it. At least then the political integration is ended and we'd have the Efta firewall. On present trajectory, chasing an illusory perfection, we are likely to crash out with nothing to show for it and will have to rebuild our trade relations over decades only to achieve what we could have had now.

We are risking the UK's prosperity on the back of the profound ignorance of our politicians and media. This is the debate that was lacking from the election and it seems to be absent now. There is a wilful refusal to get to grips with it. That will be our undoing.

We should also note that since much of our administrative capacity has been closed down because of our EU membership we will have to rebuild much of it, which won't be fast or cheap. So before an agreement can go forward we have to effectively agree to stay in the EU for ten years or more until we are ready to repatriate regulatory competences. You've all seen what can happen in just a year - or even six weeks. Ten years is more than ample time to kill Brexit. In that respect anyone who is serious about leaving the EU should be pushing for the Efta EEA option because otherwise we will never get out. It may not be ideal but at least the deed would be done with minimal disruption to the economy. The rest we can sort out later.

The way it's going will end up with negotiations going round in circles just long enough for Brexit to be sabotaged. It's time for leavers to ask just how serious they are about leaving. If they are serious then they need to get to grips with the issues and face a few home truths. You have one option and one window to get out of the EU intact. Insisting on a pointless self-immolation Brexit will ultimately be self-defeating one way or another.

In the binary little world of Spiked there is such a thing as absolute sovereignty, there is no need for compromise, everything is simple and there's an easy answer for everything. They think that we are leaving the regulated sphere of the EU to join an unregulated wild west. That world has not existed since 1992. That was the last time Brexiteers bothered to examine the issues. Spiked has only produced one position article on the single market - largely based on the findings of obsolete Tory think tank publications designed to cloud the issues. As much as it was riddled with errors it is basically the same position as the Toryboy zealots who think the WTO option is viable. Unequivocally, it is not.

Hume is right that Brexit very much is a democratic realignment and I concur that it is necessary and timely, but I do not support this unhinged clamour to inflict as much economic pain as possible on the back of a very slender mandate in a referendum we won by accident. There isn't a mandate for a self-immolation Brexit and most people are grown up enough to realise that there will be compromises. We must go forward on the basis of a national consensus. We cannot give way to those who only see the world in black and white - especially when they hold such obviously erroneous and infantile ideas.

I would also remind Hume that he does not speak for all leavers and not all of us are in a hurry to sever forty years of economic cooperation. I can't say what others voted for but I voted to end political union with the EU, not to put up trade barriers and enter a regulatory race to the bottom. There are no economic advantages to doing so.

If this really is just about democracy and politics, and not economics, then Efta is perfectly sufficient. Since we are witnessing the globalisation of regulation and the weakening of the EU as a regulatory superpower (not least because we are leaving) there is no reason to fear the adoption of technical regulation - and when you look at the substance of them you really have to wonder if it's worth going to the barricades over aubergine marketing standards. That is not what I have been vexed about for the last twenty years. It's time for Spiked to ask what it is about the EU that really bothers them.

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