Monday, 20 November 2017

Brexit: a matter of perspective

I ought to confess that I quite like Michel Barnier. This, I rather think, will not look good for my leave credentials, but I cannot jump on board with the clan of ultras who ceaselessly attack him after every one of his increasingly urgent speeches. I don't know very much about him, but he does possess admirable qualities.

From the get-go he has been fair with Britain. He has spoken highly of the UK's history and contributions to the Union and treated the Irish border issue with sensitivity. He has reinforced the European position with consistent clarity, demonstrably refuting claims of negotiating malice or desires for a no deal. He also does not espouse the same detestable veneer of arrogance that we see from the likes of Jean-Claude Juncker and Guy Verhofstadt.

He has not been the barrier to a deal that so many have accused him of being. The EU's collective position is very simple: offering us a preferential trading arrangement will undermine the integrity of the Single Market, and is thus not in their interest. This fundamental point is why I have soured on the idea of leaving the EEA. It will do us no good in the short or long term.

When I try to explain this to the Leave.EU and UKIP types, inevitably I am accused of hating the country and hoping for Brexit and Britain to fail. Nothing could be further from the truth. What we are talking about here is a matter of perspective. If the roles were reversed, and we were Brussels, we would not consider Brexit an ideal opportunity to create a glaring and damaging precedent. We would seek not to undermine our own institutions. 

In his speech at the Centre for European Reform today, he reiterated that the "European Union will want to have a close relationship with the UK. We have a shared history – it started long before the last 44 years. That is why the “no deal” is not our scenario. Even though we will be ready for it. I regret that this no deal option comes up so often in the UK public debate."

I like the historical references in speeches of this nature. They are above all a reminder that the EU is and will remain a crucial ally. The bloc will not be unravelling at any time soon and we must learn to view Brexit more through the prism of a transformation than a divorce. Continued cooperation will be vital, both at the WTO and in relation to security and climate challenges.

Then, getting to the nub of this whole process, Barnier said: "Those who claim that the UK should 'cherry-pick' parts of the Single Market must stop this contradiction. The Single Market is a package, with four indivisible freedoms, common rules, institutions and enforcement structures. The UK knows these rules like the back of its hand. It has contributed to defining them over the last 44 years, with a certain degree of influence…"

The EU's insistence on protecting its integrity, he adds, "simply draws the logical consequence of the UK's decision to take back control. The EU does not want to punish. The integrity of the Single Market is not negotiable. The Single Market is one of our main public goods. It is the main reason why countries around the world – such as China, Japan, and the US – look to us as a strong partner."

Barnier is right that we cannot pack up facets of membership in our suitcase and take them with us because this would undermine the very purpose of the Single Market. There are clear reasons, after all, why Brexiteers often refer to the EU as a 'protectionist racket'. But it is worth remembering that some of this protectionism has also protected us. A point I have sought to drive home rather forcefully in recent weeks.

What does need to be highlighted is the issue of punishment. The UK correctly decided that EU membership was not in its best domestic interests and chose to leave, and so it therefore runs that we do this - the good and the bad - onto ourselves. There is no point outsourcing blame or pointing fingers. Doing so simply will not stack up to any logic that I can see.

During the referendum there was a narrow vein of argument which saw Brexit as a means to strengthen the rest of Europe. The theory behind this was that if the Union's most obstinate and hesitant member withdrew, it would allow for more rapid integration and a renewed focus upon minimising opt-outs and harmonising unbalanced levels of sovereignty between member states.

It wasn't my argument and for the record I don't think it is an especially good one. Brexit is a cause of instability and a Single Market exit will cause economic tremors not seen on the continent since 2008. Defence strategy will also be significantly hampered by our exit, given our comparatively impressive military strength, nuclear arsenal and valuable expertise.

Again, we are looking at differences in perspective. Europe and Britain can both enjoy bright futures, but only if they work closely together. We need not drive unnecessary wedges between us and our largest trading partner. Leaving was always a political question. There is no point cutting off our nose to spite our face.


  1. Probably time we stopped discussing Brexit as a tabula rasa on which any Brexit you desire can be constructed. Brexit exists in plan-form now, if you like that plan then no doubt you should support it, but if you don't like it then why on earth support it?

  2. You keep banging on about "the integrity of the Single Market". It would be nice if you could say what it is and why it is important.

    Grand abstractions can block pragmatic negotiations. It may even be a trick of one side in a negotiation to establish such and place them like a roadblock across paths that might otherwiose be taken.

    1. This is very simplified but here goes - the single market is like a common regulatory area for trade. There are a single set of standards and a common set of enforcement mechanisms and rules to make sure that those standards are adhered to. There are also, of course, no tariffs. The single market incorporates the EU and the EFTA states. There are some minor distinctions between the EU and EFTA states because of the need for enhanced customs checks between the EFTA and EU states (EFTA countries not being in the customs union).
      In contrast, outside the single market there are the tariff barriers and, more significantly, those regulatory barriers.
      The issue about "integrity" is that for the single market to function there has to be a single standard. There cannot be exceptions otherwise one country will either (a) get an unfair advantage of those who are abiding by the rules or (b) production lines may become "contaminated" with non-compliant elements.
      The EU is telling the UK that it cannot trade with all the countries in the single market as if it is still in the single market while at the same time having the flexibility to ignore all single market regulations - for those reasons. IE - the UK cannot have its cake and eat it. That is not an unreasonable position I'm afraid.

    2. The Single Market is described here

    3. Barnier's commments are enough elaboration.

  3. He also does not espouse the same detestable veneer of arrogance that we see from the likes of Jean-Claude Juncker and Guy Verhofstadt .... you mean the detestable veneer of arrogance from may,Boris, mogg,redwood,hannan,gove et all

    1. These things do not necessarily stand in contradiction to one another