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24 July 2017

The Guardian view on the single market: a viable Brexit path

There is no predetermined model for Britain’s future relationship with the EU and no immovable reason why that future must exclude the single market, whether as part of a transition or on a longer-term basis, in the newspapers' opinion.

[...]one common fallacy: that remaining in the single market amounts to remaining in the EU. The Norwegian model might be flawed but it irrefutably combines two things that leavers insist are incompatible.

Conservatives in pursuit of a hard Brexit want to kill off the idea of single market membership. They deny that such a rupture would sabotage the economy, throwing up barriers to investment, suffocating trade and costing jobs. The Tory radical Brexiter prospectus imagines free trade deals with non-EU countries swiftly compensating Britain for any disruption. No reputable authority on trade supports that belief, which owes more to faith than evidence.

So it is unclear why Labour, whose front bench has shown greater willingness to recognise the value of the single market, should promulgate the idea that it is off limits under a Brexit deal.

Jeremy Corbyn said over the weekend that the single market and EU membership are “inextricably linked”. Barry Gardiner, shadow international trade secretary, goes further, envisaging Britain also outside the customs union – the outcome sought by the most zealous Tory Eurosceptics. Those are peculiar concessions for the opposition to be making now, especially since the vast majority of the party’s members (and millions of Labour voters) reject a hard Brexit.

The most commonly cited reason to accept the need to quit the single market is that staying in it entails adoption of free labour movement rules, thereby limiting options for border control.

Concern about immigration was a big driver of support for the leave campaign, so it is fair to fear a backlash against a Brexit deal that failed to reassure on that front. But free movement rules allow for stricter interpretation than has applied in Britain. And while the stated EU position is that porous borders are a non-negotiable part of the single market package, the potential for concessions and compromise is unknown, since it has not been probed.

Labour should be wary of complicity with Brexit arguments that are ultimately founded on the old Eurosceptic vilification of “open-door” policies that “flood” Britain with undesirable foreigners.

Before long there will have to be some trade-off between the ambition to satisfy various impulses that informed the leave vote and the responsibility on politicians to avoid outcomes that are obviously ruinous. Part of that process requires greater honesty with the public about the challenges and benefits of migration in a modern economy that cannot and should not eradicate the phenomenon of workers crossing borders.

An underlying problem with Britain’s current position is that Theresa May dashed for the most extreme concept of Brexit within months of entering Downing Street, framing the project as total severance of institutional ties. On that basis she activated article 50, ceding control of the timetable and process for negotiation before there was a strategic goal in place.

The prime minister needlessly and recklessly narrowed her options, trapping herself behind ideological interpretations of the referendum mandate that exist principally in the minds of Tory Eurosceptic ultras. The loss of a parliamentary majority in June should have served notice to Mrs May that her Brexit horizons needed broadening. It is incumbent also on the opposition to assist with that process, keeping options open, not prematurely closing them down. [...]

Full article on The Guardian

© The Guardian

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