The starting guns have been fired for Brexit with article 50 and for a UK General Election with the approval of Parliament. The ‘remainers’ are seizing the chance to promote their cause. All parties claim that they respect the views of the British electorate in the 2016 Referendum, but some parties respect the views of the people more than others. Both the Liberal Democrats and some in the Labour Party ( notably Keir Starmer its Brexit shadow minister) now seem to want somehow to worm their way back into the EU. The Lib Dems and Keir Starmer have stated that they want to remain in the single market and in the customs union. They say they accept that the UK leaves the EU but that it should remain in its flagship project.
Remaining in the single market and in the customs union without being a full member of the EU is the worst of all possible worlds. It is, in effect, the Norway option. It might work just about for Norway but it could never work for a country the size of the UK and with the varied economy of the UK. All the laws and rules would be made by the institutions of the EU and we, not being members, would simply just have to put up with them. And, we would still have to put up with the judgements of the European Court. We would have given up our seat at the table but not regained any portion of our capacity to make decisions suitable for ourselves.
Those who advocate this policy clearly have no knowledge at all about the nature of the European Union or how it works. Yet they claim to be the true ‘Europeans’. Before they open their mouths on this subject they would do well to find out the facts. I should issue copies of my 2016 book, ‘In or Out: An Impartial Guide to the EU’ to all Lib Dem and Labour candidates to assist them with queries from voters (who are not all that silly) and the press. Perhaps I should find a sponsor to do this for me!
The customs union represents the wall around the protected economy of the European Union. It was pretty strong when first constructed but today is full of holes from the wide range of WTO rules, specific trade deals and globalisation. Most of the rules for international trade are today made not by individual states or groups of states like the EU but in international organisations both state supported and private. The EU merely puts them into effect for all its members. The single market is, even by the most ardent pro-EU supporters, widely recognised to be incomplete. It works for manufactured goods but hardly exists for services. And, indeed, it will never be ‘complete’ because much of economic activity is based on local markets. Free trade for those products which are like commodities – the same the world over – is one thing as is free trade where there are comparative advantages. But services are always going to be largely local in nature because they concern relations between individuals.
It is ironic therefore that the critics of the effects of globalisation (and the EU as a regional organisation) for its uneven effects on peoples’ lives should try to prop up a regional economic organisation that may have been relevant in 1980 but is becoming more and more out of date today. The Liberal Democrats and those sections of the Labour Party represented by Keir Starmer need to do a lot more thinking on this subject before they engage with voters and the press in the coming weeks.