More calls for “exact same benefits” in Brexit deal
Amidst the uncertainty, one thing’s clear: a “no deal” outcome will not deliver the “exact same benefits” as single market & customs union membership.
Tomorrow, Britain’s EU ambassador Sir Tim Barrow will hand deliver the prime minister’s Article 50 notification letter. And the two-year clock for Brexit talks and agreement starts ticking.
What the government’s position is remains both unclear and at the same time, rather fantastical. This was demonstrated again last night in the BBC’s Question Time Brexit Special. Brexit secretary David Davis revealed that after telling MPs the government was considering paying the EU for single market access, the prime minister corrected him later on saying that “consider” didn’t mean they’d actually do it.
Right. So the government doesn’t want to make any contributions to the EU budget, doesn’t want to play by the same rules or operate within the free movement framework that underpins the single market. But it does want to secure a “comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade deal”. This will be a deal so wonderful that Davis told fellow Tory MP Anna Soubry that it would give us the “exact same benefits” as members of the single market and customs union.
In addition to this, the prime minister has said that she is willing to walk away from talks with “no deal”. This would lead to the UK crashing out of the EU at the end of the two years and have to rely on WTO rules for trade. Who knows what that would mean for the 4 million plus EU citizens in the UK and Brits in the EU! One thing is clear, this scenario would not give us the “exact same benefits”. But we shouldn’t worry about it because lead Brexiteer Boris Johnson has said it will be “perfectly okay”.
Well, there are many who disagree. Yesterday Labour shadow secretary Keir Starmer outlined six tests by which Labour would hold the government to account. They include judging any final deal on whether it delivers the “exact same benefits” of single market and customs union membership. This morning, a cross-party group of MPs for think tank Open Britain also said it would hold the government to account on 10 promises it and Vote Leave made. They include Davis’ “exact same benefits”.
And they’re not alone in pushing for the “exact same benefits”…
Four million plus EU citizens living in the UK and Brits living in the EU
There is no doubt that they all want their existing rights protected. I’m pretty sure there is a huge number of Brits living in the UK who believe the “exact same benefits” should include our right to live, work, study and retire across the EU. It’s a controversial idea but free movement of people should also be considered a benefit of single market membership.
Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar
Both the Scottish and Welsh governments have put forward comprehensive Brexit plans proposing the UK remain a member of the single market and customs union as part of the European Economic Area (EEA). As this New York Times reports, a hard Brexit poses significant risks to Northern Ireland: to the Good Friday Peace agreement, to its economy and ultimately to the Union too. There is, of course, another border at risk: the one between Gibraltar and Spain. Single market membership means workers can move freely between the two and businesses that have thrived in Gibraltar have done so because of the UK’s single market membership.
There is also overwhelming evidence from businesses across the UK that the government should prioritise the benefits we get from single market and customs union membership. The benefits aren’t just limited to tariff-and-barrier free trade either. Many businesses including farming and hospitality see free movement of people as a benefit in terms of easily accessible labour. A report by the CBI said that the government should take a “whole economy approach” on Brexit. One of its key priorities was a migration system that allows businesses to access the skills and labour they need to deliver growth. Free movement does that.
Here’s a bit more from two sectors particularly at risk from a “no deal” outcome:
- Manufacturers: Manufacturers from the motor industry to the aerospace industry have urged the government to prioritise tariff-and-barrier free trade. And yesterday, the trade body for manufacturers EEF said that walking away without a deal is a “no-go for manufacturers”. The Guardian reports EEF chief executive Terry Scuoler as saying “the idea of being able to walk away empty-handed might be a negotiating tactic, but it would in reality deliver a risky and expensive blow”.
Perhaps the most damning evidence of the impact from a hard Brexit on manufacturers comes from small group of economists who actually campaigned for Leave. Economists for Free Trade (formerly Economists for Brexit) claim that Britain could prosper if the UK forgets about negotiating a deal and unilaterally scraps all import tariffs. However, the Independent reports that co-chair of the group Professor Minford also admitted that this policy would “mostly eliminate manufacturing”.
- Farming and agricultural industry: The BBC reports on calls by the UK’s food supply chain for the government to maintain frictionless and tariff-free trade with the EU. The farming industry faces some of the highest tariffs if the UK leaves without a deal. It would also lose EU subsidies, which the government has only so far agreed to maintain up to 2020 (a year after the UK’s withdrawal). There is also a huge risk to the industry from labour shortages should there be immigration restrictions post-Brexit.
And in what might be a surprise, there is even support for maintaining single market access, continued financial support and access to migrant labour from a UKIP member as reported by ITV News.
If there is anything positive that can be taken from Article 50 being triggered tomorrow, it’s that the government will no longer be able to hide behind rhetoric.