On her recent Question Time appearance, Labour MP, Gisela Stuart, insisted that “both sides said a vote to leave would mean leaving the Single Market”. This oft-repeated assertion is deserving of more scrutiny than it has so far received.
First of all, I would be interested to know what Mrs Stuart means by “both sides”. She may mean the “leave” and “remain” campaigns granted “lead campaign” status by the Electoral Commission. To that end, it is worthwhile noting that the appointed campaigns were not the only groups or individuals involved in the referendum campaign. That is important.
Neither does either campaign group have any authority to make policy for the UK. As Vote Leave Campaign Manager, Dominic Cummings, wrote on his blog, shortly after the Tory election victory:
“A Government trying to leave the EU obviously needs an exit plan. The SNP needed an exit plan. But the NO campaign is neither a political party nor a government. It has no locus to negotiate a new deal.”
Ironically, had the “leave” campaign presented referendum voters with a coherent set of policy proposals, “leave” campaigners would now be in a far stronger position to exert political pressure on the UK government. Had that come to pass, it is unlikely that the establishment line would have been that “both sides were clear”. MPs and their friends in the legacy press would instead have argued that how Britain leaves the EU is a matter for the UK government to decide, regardless of what either of the appointed campaign groups may have argued.
In addition to questioning whether the appointed campaigns—both of which published and broadcast enormous amounts of misleading rubbish—are a legitimate authority with regards to determining the UK’s future relationship with the EU, I would also dispute the notion that both sides were “clear” in saying that a vote to leave the EU would mean immediately leaving the Single Market.
On the 19th April 2016, Michael Gove gave a speech in which he said:
“There is a free trade zone stretching from Iceland to Turkey that all European nations have access to, regardless of whether they are in or out of the euro or EU. After we vote to leave we will remain in this zone.”
What is that supposed to mean? What “free trade zone” is Gove talking about? Is there some form of agreement connected with this free trade zone that all the countries in it are signed up to? Does this free trade zone have a name and when did the countries of Europe sign up to this agreement?
At best, Gove’s statement is confused. Of the two countries mentioned, Iceland is part of EFTA and the EEA, while Turkey is not part of EFTA or the EEA, but is party to a customs union agreement with the EU. The most generous explanation is that Michael Gove does not know what he is talking about. Indeed, I have yet to hear a single MP provide an adequate description of the Single Market.
Then there is the Vote Leave campaign itself, and the bizarre comments made by Matthew Elliott and Dominic Cummings while appearing in front of the Treasury Select Committee. Asked whether he wanted Britain to be in or out of the Single Market, Dominic Cummings’ first response was to ask the MP asking the question how he would define the Single Market. Asked the question a second time, Cummings waffled about the “costs” of Single Market regulation, according to Vote Leave. Asked the question a third time, Cummings responded again, “What do you mean by the Single Market?”
Asked the question yet again, Cummings asserted that the European Commission defines Single Market membership as including membership of the euro and of Schengen, thereby implying that the UK is not in the Single Market. This statement is so strange one does not really know where to begin. Neither did the parliamentary committee.
The last thing this exercise in obfuscation was is clear. The exchange I am describing begins at around the fourteen minute mark and continues, at great length, with Cummings refusing to provide straight or “clear”, if you would prefer, answers to most of the questions asked.
As for remarks made by prominent “remain” campaigners regarding immediate withdrawal from the Single Market, David Cameron also said that, in the event of a “leave” vote, he would stay on as Prime Minister and immediately invoke Article 50, while George Osborne said that a vote to leave would necessitate an immediate tax hike, spending cuts and job losses beginning on the Friday after the vote.
It is not Gisela Stuart, and the like, arguing that the UK should leave the Single Market at the point of EU exit that I find problematic, it is her and people like her presenting their view as a fait accompli, as if the appalling referendum debate has already decided these matters. If she thinks immediate Single Market exit is the best way forward, she should make that argument on its merits, not call in aid statements made by campaign groups which no longer exist and have no locus of control or responsibility with respect to future decisions.
Brexit is Britain’s withdrawal from EU Treaties, Institutions and Representations. The referendum result proscribed nothing other than remaining in the EU. In light of the work that lies ahead, additional “hurdles to exit” are unnecessary baggage. Rebuilding competencies as part of the Single Market would allow the UK to leave EU within two years while seeking a “bespoke” deal risks taking much longer.