Monday, 28 August 2017

There is no real mandate to leave the Single Market

Note: thanks to the publicity which greeted this post, the Vote Leave website has since been updated and the content I referred to changed. It does, though, remain the case that our stance on the Single Market was ambiguous. 

I am often criticised by both Remainers and hard Leavers for my commitment to staying in the EEA. It is a fundamental violation, the argument runs, of the mandate provided by last summer's referendum result. This sentiment tends to be strengthened by silly, populist slogans like 'Brexit means Brexit', which mean nothing and only further fuel the notion that we must leave all institutions as quickly as possible instead of treating EU secession (which we are forgetting presents the country which very many positive opportunities) as something we must understand and think our way through. 

Brexiteers talk about the Single Market (EEA) as if it is but a minor obstacle in their quick escape vision of Brexit. This rashness is wholly irresponsible and will in the end galvanise exactly the counter forces seeking to keep Britain within the European Union. Many of them would be easier to argue with if they bothered to open their minds to alternative thinking and those of us who favour a softer Brexit. I mean, take this, from Brendan O'Neill, for whom I have developed a particular dislike:

He's very confident for somebody who makes very open and notable errors. I suppose that doesn't matter to him. He has his very intimate and close-knit band of followers, who will lap up anything he says because he's cool, Right-wing and edgy. But he doesn't have such a tight relationship with factual information. He asserts that the Single Market is an EU institution, but this is categorically not the case. The Single Market, as per the EEA Agreement of 1994, is a collaboration - a trade deal if you like - consisting of the EU and 3 EFTA states: Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The EU is not the Single Market, so from a purely logical perspective, Brexit cannot de facto mean to leave the Single Market. He then says that a softer Brexit entails 'staying in' the ECJ, which for EFTA EEA members is also an untruth, as per the skeletal structure of the Single Market below. 

Misinformation like this has stifled the national Brexit discussion for months. But what is more concerning is the number of people who believe in an imaginary mandate to leave the Single Market, or rather to withdraw from the EEA Agreement. No such mandate exists. Vote Leave did not ever present to the electorate a plan for Brexit, and did not advocate leaving the Single Market. Don't believe me? Our website is still online at Take a look at our campaign messages and our claims. We argue for things which are utterly achievable in the EEA and make no mention at all of leaving the Single Market. 

We campaigned for an end to ECJ subordination, which EFTA EEA provides. We demanded more control over immigration, which Article 112 of the EEA Agreement provides. We asked to be free to trade with the entire world, which EFTA EEA members are, largely by virtue of their ability to reclaim independent voting rights at international bodies (like the World Trade Organisation), which the EEA provides. We wanted to stop sending the EU money, which EFTA EEA membership ensures is spent on EEA grants which the UK would participate in. As for the NHS, I don't support nationalised healthcare so could care less how poorly the system is funded. And, crucially, we wanted the ability to make our own laws, which the EEA largely does not infringe upon. As Pete North notes earlier today:

"That is where the EEA option is the superior model. It really is about "taking back control". When the EU brings a new piece of legislation into being (likely adopted global standards), it is not automatically adopted by Norway. There is a constitutional process whereby the Norwegian parliament debates and decides whether or not to adopt a measure. We know that there is a penalty if they do not adhere to single market rules, but ultimately it is their decision to consider the balance of trade-offs according to their own strategic trade goals and domestic values."

Around early May 2016, the Remain campaign started to go hard on the fact that leaving would mean leaving the Single Market. But there was absolutely no official scope for them to say this at all. It was perhaps their most deceptive lie during the entire campaign. McGrory and his colleagues on Cannon Street sat in their office and forced this issue on to the agenda. It was something they conjured up out of thin air because it aided one of their primary arguments for remaining: Leave doesn't have a plan for Brexit, it'll therefore be a step into the dark (the horrendous catchphrases are piling back into my brain as I type).  

Some Leavers, it is true, did want an exit from the Single Market. But they are not as numerous as certain people would have you believe. And if we took all of these people into a room, and showed them how the EEA Agreement can ease their concerns, many would be quickly converted. To them Brexit may mean a Single Market exit, but to me Brexit means leaving the European Union and is part of a much bigger plan, both for democracy and the future of European trade. 

I don't care how many times Nigel Farage uses the term 'backsliding' to describe the progress of Brexit negotiations. Brexit is not his toy to play with. Brexit is a national effort which ought to be constructed in the national interest. Brexiteers are often guilty of forgetting that an EU departure is for all of us. It isn't something to be rubber stamped only by our approval and the democratic process, including scrutiny and critique, must continue. I would also point out that a Brexit which relies on continued membership of the Single Market could be the only way to repair a fractured electorate, now more likely to exploit non-party dividing lines than perhaps ever before. 


  1. So the £64,000 question is, why did May make ending Single Market membership a red line in her Lancaster House speech back in January?

    Answers on a postcard but the elephant in the room continues to be controlling immigration and it really doesn't matter how often our blogger, or others of a similar persuasion, point out the obvious that a) we always had some control over "free movement of LABOUR" and b) we would have more control outside the EU but inside the EEA the message is either not getting across or there is another agenda at play here.

    "Around early May 2016, the Remain campaign started to go hard on the fact that leaving would mean leaving the Single Market."

    Cameron used the argument that the "Norway" option was the worst of both worlds, inside the Single Market but outside the decision making process, and he was wrong but Vote Leave could have, should have countered it more but the reason they didn't , I'd guess, is it would have put them too close to outlining a "plan" for leaving.

  2. Oliver,
    You have lost perspective through mixing up a democratic vote to leave the EU with your own personal beliefs.
    The fact was that the people voted to leave and that does mean leaving the single market, it does mean leavig the customs union and it does mean escaping the clutches of the European Courts.
    It is too late arguing your ideas about what would be good for the country. You had your chance before the refrendum. In effect you are arguing that democracy does not matter because YOU know best.

    1. No it doesnt, and Oliver's post above proves why it does not mean leaving those things. Brexit Taliban are trying to re-write history and change the referendum question after it has already been voted on.

    2. anonymous, like most breximorons, didn't let the facts presented (i.e. the indisputable fact that the single market is not the EU) change his view. I imagine he is a loyal reader of Daily Mail/Sun.

  3. The words, "Single Market" or "EEA" were not on the referendum paper. It was solely about the EU. If Leavers want a referendum on the Single Market or EEA, they'd better start campaigning for one. Good luck.

  4. "You have lost perspective through mixing up a democratic vote to leave the EU with your own personal beliefs"

    I participated in the same democratic vote as you, and I can say with some certainty that the one and only question asked was do I want to remain or leave the European Union.

    Unless you can provide some evidence that all those who voted to Leave the EU were of the view that this meant leaving the Single Market then I would suggest it is your sense of perspective that needs some adjustment.

  5. As far as I am concerned the only positive vote of Leave was to provide more money for the NHS. That's not going to happen. Why is it OK to ignore the will of the people on this issue?

  6. I understand that you consider the current trajectory to be bad. Very bad. Is there a point were it would not just be worse than another form of leaving the EU, but worse than remaining?

  7. Bring back the empire. Here here. ��
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  8. Ouch. Cognitive dissonance!

    Here's a Blogger who writes well and appears to be on the right side of the "Let's make sense" cf "Let's indulge ourselves" divide.

    But who argues that we can somehow leave the jurisdiction of the ECJ (or a body of equivalent powers and purpose) and who sees the future of the UK somehow resembling that of a tiny, homogeneous country with the worlds largest sovereign wealth fund.

    Cue cerebral explosion.

  9. From cognitive dissonance to total cognitive Stockhausen.

    Having read some more of your blog entries I have even less idea why you ever supported (hard, soft, whatever) Brexit, why you support it now and how you keep your evidently competent mind reconciled with its drivers and consequences without hallucinogens. Or perhaps that is the answer?

    Could you point me to something pithy which explains?

  10. this whole EEA EFTA is the most overrated nonsense I've ever read!

    the Norwegians are now de facto members of the EU, they've lost a massive amount of sovereignty because of the EEA agreement

    its a total no no, if we went into EFTA we'd never leave, and I'm certain it would be used as a springboard to take us back in

    its a very dangerous proposition, because once the MSM start to report the cases brought against the UK government in the EFTA court, and the fact these cases would be supporting EU law, thats the point when people would say " well we haven't really left have we" well thats when the whole country would become dangerously polarised

    so i would suggest we stop all this nonsense about Norway, EEA and Efta, besides the EU ain't gonna allow it because it's they who want a hard brexit, they aren't people we can negotiate with we should start trade talk now and f*** 'em

  11. staying the single market or eea means accepting everything we voted out for..that is neither respecting democratic decision or leaving the eu

  12. ...mad idea which will keep us in the EU, sooner or later they'll have another vote to stay in EEA/EFTA, and this time the remain side will win, from there they'll engineer the right set of events resulting in Britain remaining in a 'new' EU

  13. I appreciate we all like to re-write history from time to time Oliver, but your attempt well intentioned as it may be, is risible nonsense.

    The two vote leave campaigns did not need to promote the EEA/Norway options because it’s central “cake and eat it” argument meant that all the benefits (which never seemed to be fully articulated) could be garnered due to that fact that “they need us more then we need them”

    What I call the “BMW Gambit” – I mean it’s so obvious isn’t, cue talk of trade surpluses blah blah blah - ad infinitum

    To reiterate

    “We could get ALL the advantages of the SM without being a member, because they sell us BMW’s”

    In fact some prominent leave campaigners went further and denied there was even such a thing as the single market

    The below video is IDS on the Marr Show

    (Picked at random, - tbh pretty much any interview with the Vote Leave clowns would have yielded the same claptrap)

    At 1.28 he says – and I quote verbatim “there is no entity called the Single European Market”

    So quite how the Leave campaign would advocate staying in something that they refused to believe existed is frankly “unicorn” territory

    But it does leave the fascinating reality that the “ultras” have a much more internally logical and consistent narrative – bat shit crazy that it is

    And as you well know we are still in unicorn territory – And that explains the paralysis that we are in and the international laughing stock we have become

  14. The Government brought us the Referendum. They promised to give people the "final say" and deliver on the result. Cameron and Osborne spelt out that we would be out of the Single Market and made great play of that fact in order to persuade people to vote remain. Central to the debate was immigration and free movement. The only way to control immigration is to leave the Single Market. Triggering A50 means we automatically leave EU institutions after two years. That was legal understanding at the time. What was NOT on the ballot was leaving the EU and opting back into the Single Market.