Sunday, 1 July 2018

The battle for the single market can still be won

The EEA option has been declared dead more times than I can count. Most recently when the EEA amendment failed to pass in mid June. Each time I ignore such pronouncements simply because I do not see any alternative. We have come a long way from Theresa May's Lancaster House speech and there is a way to go yet. It ain't over til it's over and there is the still the possibility that Number Ten will work out that the EEA is the only game in town.

From the very beginning of this blog my working assumption was always that May would be boxed in by reality and forced into the EEA option. When campaigning through the referendum I brushed off many of the "project fear" warnings thinking that a majority remain house of commons would assert itself when it came to the crunch.

I did not anticipate the way in which politics has fallen apart and I never imagined the opposition could be this atomised. It has also been a real education as to just how ignorant of the EU our political class really is. Even now Corbyn's position is flaky - still prattling about having a customs union while leaving the single market. There is no knowledge behind the words. Labour's Brexit policy is little more than soundbites and political guesswork - trying not to turn core voters away. And failing.

The battle, though, can be won from outside of the Westminster bubble. What was once a fringe option, casually brushed aside as politically nonviable, is now becoming the mainstream view. We are not there yet in that politicos are still talking in terms of a goods only single market, oblivious to how unworkable that is, but once Brussels gives it the formal thumbs down the EEA will stand as the only credible option.

This is when we are likely to see a political row at the top of the Tory party. The Brexiters are circling the wagons and getting ready for a fight. Were I to place bets I think they will fold. If May heads toward the EEA she will find she has allies and a good deal of public support. She could still carry the day. The ultras seem more preoccupied by the customs union while May has a DUP gun to her head.

Though the EEA may well be toxic to the headbangers it's far less toxic than Northern Ireland remaining an EU customs territory and having a wet border. We will also hear more from business which is decidedly against the idea of the UK becoming a third country. It needs to be hammered home that an FTA is only marginally less catastrophic than the WTO option.

As it happens I think the tide is going out on the ultras. Today in the Telegraph we see Daniel Hannan trotting out his favourite tune of  "Forget the EU single market – it's time for an Anglosphere free trade zone". By now even our dismal media pack has grasped enough about trade to realise this is intellectually barren. All the while every utterance from Rees-Mogg is comprehensively fisked and demolished on Twitter.

It helps now that we have the EU's own notices to stakeholders, which state in black and white what it means to be a third country. These are useful in demonstrating to true believers that the free traders are on flimsy territory. Though the arguments are slow to develop I get a sense that things are snowballing and becoming more urgent. 

I wouldn't care to make any hard and fast predictions. Politics could still scupper a deal and we won't know until the closing days which way this will go. That buys us some time. The argument is winnable and for all that the great and the good declare the EEA as a dead option it's the one that won't go away because it just makes sense. It makes sense now and even if we do crash out without a deal Efta remains an option for a new administration. 

In recent weeks I've noticed I spend more time attacking Brexiters than remainers. I do not see the legacy remain campaign as a threat. I see it more as an emotional support group for the distraught. For the vast sums of money it has attracted it has accomplished nothing and is unlikely to succeed. They've retreated into their own echo chamber, re-fighting the referendum thus have nothing new to say and nothing to add to the process.

For me the arguments for leaving have been made and the one thing I am certain of is that we are leaving the EU. There isn't time in the day to fight old battles. We are in a new battle with Brexiters who have taken the leave vote as a mandate for their own brand of disaster capitalism. They are every bit as mendacious as the continuity remain camp only they stand to do real damage and lead us toward a far less satisfactory Brexit. I'll keep fighting until the final whistle. 

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