In the weeks and months following the vote to leave the European Union, much of the debate has centred around precisely what form Brexit will take. The lack of an official Leave plan, coupled with Cameron’s arrogance in refusing to lay any groundwork for the eventuality of a Leave vote, means the nature of our withdrawal is still very much up in the air.
Most of this centres around whether or not the UK should remain a member of the EEA, otherwise known as the single market. As I and many others argued relentlessly during the referendum campaign, the EU and the single market are not the same thing, which is precisely why all the protestations of economic doom that the Remain side propagated were a nonsense. From Twitter’s echo chamber, to newspaper commentators, right up to the Prime Minister himself, the false conflation of the EU with the single market was one of, if not the, most erroneous facet of the campaign.
Now it seems those chickens have come home to roost. So called ‘soft-leavers’ such as myself, who see a transitional EEA or ‘Norway’ style arrangement as a safe, economically neutral means of extracting ourselves from political union with Europe, now find ourselves on the same side as the likes of Nick Clegg and Nicola Sturgeon in arguing for continued single market membership. This is not a good thing.
Had the Remain side forgone the temptation to depict leaving the European Union as an act of economic self-harm, instead focusing on the arguments predicated upon political union, then now, in the aftermath of a leave vote, they could credibly argue along with liberal leavers, that ok, we shall leave political union, but there is a strong economic case for maintaining single market membership in the short to medium term.
Ironically, this is far and away the most popular version of Brexit too. A pre-referendum poll had a clear 57% of voters, including 79% of Remainers and 42% of Leavers, backing a Norway style arrangement. Moreover, maintaining current trading arrangements over restricting free movement is the majority opinion too, with a ComRes poll this past week showing a preference for securing trade deals over cutting immigration by 49% to 39%.
This is, as it happens, a false dichotomy. The EEA Agreement contains provisions that can be utilised to curb freedom of movement, giving lie to the need to choose one or the other. Ironically, many leavers now find themselves making this case in order to counter Remainers, our new PM amongst them, who believe their own rhetoric and have taken the Brexit vote as a vote entirely against immigration. Vociferous Kippers aside, this simply isn’t the case.
Given the overwhelming support for continued single market membership, this should be an easy case to make. However, the calls by some MPs and commentators to ignore the referendum result entirely and stay in the EU, has meant that the public is sceptical of any arguments from former Remainers to stay in the single market, seeing it as an underhanded attempt to maintain EU membership by the back door.
Their dishonesty in the campaign has trashed their credibility, regardless of whether their arguments about the UK’s continued EEA membership have any merit. As a result, they now fight an uphill battle, and liberal leavers find their cogent arguments weighed down by the baggage of their former adversary’s deceit.