According to those who support leaving the European Union:
· the UK is an important market for the other EU countries, so it is in their interest to allow continued full access to the single market,
· leaving the EU will allow the UK government to give state aid to industries such as steel, which they cannot do currently under EU rules,
· the UK can negotiate a free trade deal with China without having to consider the interests of 27 other EU members, and
· the UK can impose tariffs on products, such as steel, which are being dumped at less than cost price by our competitors.
I don’t disagree with any of those statements in principle; they are all ‘true’ as far as they go. The question, though, is whether and to what extent they can all be true in practice at the same time. It appears that many of the Brexiters seriously believe that they can, but it looks like a highly unlikely proposition to me. For instance, why on earth would the 27 remaining member states allow a free market with another state which was providing state subsidies to its industries in order for them to compete on price? It would be self-destructive for them to do so.
But that unshakeable belief that ‘the world will come to us and deal with us on our terms’ is at the very heart of the problem; there is an exceptionalism which has dogged the UK’s membership of the EU from the outset – always seeking opt-outs and exclusions; rebates and special terms. That separateness and superiority which characterises the UK’s approach to the world stage probably stems from an unwillingness to let go of the imperial past. It’s a perspective which was certainly reflected in some of the rhetoric about being a ‘great trading nation’ and looking again to the Commonwealth.Perhaps the shock of Brexit will finally bring a healthy dose of reality about the UK’s place in the world.