Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Splitting hairs

At a time when the government has managed to set itself impossible objectives over the most important change facing the UK for decades, the main opposition party, Labour, sometimes seems to be going out of its way to be even more incoherent on the same issue.  Whilst I actually agree with the Brexiteers that remaining part of the single market isn’t really leaving the EU at all (it achieves few of the objectives which they originally set themselves), it’s clear that the short term economic damage would be much more limited.  I had thought that Labour was edging towards that position, but Corbyn has managed to lead them away again, by saying that the UK cannot stay within the trading block.
Technically, what he and those speaking for him are saying is correct; “The single market is not a membership club that can be joined”.  It isn’t, and there is no way of applying to join it as a member.  It’s hair-splitting, though.  It is perfectly possible to continue to ‘participate’ fully in the single market without being in the EU, as Norway does.  It involves accepting the rules of the single market, of course, but that’s ultimately all a single market is – a set of rules and regulations followed by all and enforced collectively.
Obtaining the benefits of participation in the market depend on adherence to, and enforcement of, those rules and regulations, but in saying that “we seek through negotiation to retain the benefits of the single market” without committing to doing that, Labour are effectively suffering from the same delusion as the Tories.  The difference between ‘participation’ and ‘membership’ is mere semantics, but if they want to be pedantic, let them carry on.  The more significant difference is between ‘participation’ and merely seeking to ‘enjoy the benefits’, and until Labour move from the latter to the former, their position will continue to be, in substance, no different from that of the government.

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