Friday, 30 June 2017

Asking for the moon

The Tories have been criticised for seeking a so-called ‘hard’ Brexit, but in fairness to them, I don’t really believe that there is any other sort.  The logic of withdrawal from the EU also implies withdrawal from both the single market and the customs union, and those who are arguing otherwise are being less than honest with the public.  Insofar as people thought that they were voting against immigration and foreign control over laws and regulations, and for ending payment to the EU, the Tory position is entirely consistent with the outcome of the referendum.  To the extent that it looks inconsistent with the claims of the Brexiteers during the referendum campaign, it is because those campaigners were telling outright lies when they said that the UK could enjoy all the benefits with none of the costs.
I know that, in theory at least, it is possible to retain membership of both the single market and the customs union whilst being outside the formal EU structures, which is roughly the position in which Norway finds itself.  The problem with that position in relation to the perceived reasons for the referendum outcome is that it implies acceptance of freedom of movement, acceptance of the jurisdiction of the ECJ, and the payment of a share of the costs of running and regulating the market.  The Tories have set themselves against all three of those, and Labour have also set themselves against the first whilst remaining at best ambiguous, to date, about the other two.  And yesterday, Labour reinforced their commitment to leaving the single market.
In that context, Labour’s repeated call for getting the “exact same benefits” as membership of the single market is nonsensical, and they know it.  They’re no better than the Tories in this instance – just as the whole referendum was about trying to bridge the divide within the Tory party so Labour’s call is about trying to bridge the divide in the Labour Party between those who want to stay in the EU and those who want to implement the referendum decision.  The result is that they sound as dishonest as the Brexiteers during the referendum, in that they’re effectively saying that we can have the benefits without the costs.
The same statement applies to any other party which talks about some sort of ‘soft’ Brexit.  Insofar as the term means anything at all, it means continued adherence to EU rules about freedom of movement, continued adherence to single market regulations, continued payments to the EU, and continued compliance with the ECJ – all without any influence or input into the rules and laws with which we must comply.  So, whilst in theory this so-called ‘soft’ Brexit is a possibility – and particularly so in the light of the new parliamentary arithmetic - in practice it requires a significant climb-down from the position taken to date by Labour as well as a willingness amongst a small number of Tories to rebel.  There are no signs of that happening.  With no willingness to compromise, the Labour Party’s position on Brexit is to all intents and purposes the same as that of the Tories – demand the impossible and then accept a complete break when they don’t get it.
Any hope that ever existed of getting terms as good as the single market without membership of the EU always depended on one thing and that was that the decision of the UK to depart would be the first domino which brought the whole house down and destroyed the EU.  Had that happened, the idea of a new trading arrangement between the states of Europe without the elements of political union which have developed over the years would have been a theoretical possibility, although even then I suspect it would take decades to bring about.  But the actual effect of Brexit has been to strengthen the unity of the other 27 members – and in that scenario, everything the Brexiteers promised is just pie in the sky, and the UK’s position looks like the bluster and bluff which it was from the outset.  For sure, the UK’s team might say that they want the EU to continue as a strong entity with which we can trade, but that’s actually the reverse of what they need in order to make sense of the hole which has been dug.  They need a weak and disintegrating EU - and very definitely not a ‘strong and stable’ one.
Rather than aping the Tory demand for the moon to be delivered on a plate, the rational response from Labour would be to point out the absurdity of demanding all the benefits with none of the costs, and let the Brexiteers stew in a broth of their own making.  As consequences become clearer, they could be highlighting the fact that the best way of getting membership benefits of any organisation is through being a member, instead of which they’re backing up the Brexiteers’ ludicrous claim that those benefits are available anyway.  It’s not offering the alternative for which people will increasingly be looking as the full consequences become obvious.  Worse still, it’s not only Labour who are failing to offer Wales that honest and rational alternative.


Leigh Richards said...

After the events of yesterday evening it's now clear there's hardly a cigarette paper between the tory and labour front benchs at westminster on brexit - both want to end freedom of movement and are in favour of leaving the single market and the customs union. That is a hard brexit and worth noting it's a position even more extreme than the position of the official leave campaign during the referendum last year.

Talk from the labour leadership of access to the single market 'on the best possible terms' is nonsense - you cant get any 'better terms' than being in the single market and the customs union.

There's a very important welsh dimension to this issue of course - two thirds of welsh exports are with the single market and walking away from it is clearly going to seriously impact on the welsh economy. But after yesterday's events it's evident the leadership's of both main parties at westminster arent giving a second thought to the consequences to the welsh economy of a hard brexit.

Credit to those 7 welsh labour MPs and the 4 plaid MPs who voted for the amendment.

John Dixon said...

"Credit to those 7 welsh labour MPs and the 4 plaid MPs who voted for the amendment." Indeed. But I'd give them even more credit if they stopped pretending that a so-called 'soft' Brexit was a realistic alternative and said honestly and openly that the best way of keeping the benefits of membership is to retain that membership.