In your piece on Saturday 5th, you argue that “Staying with Europe is good business sense”, and that “There is a consensus here that the UK must retain its membership of the Single Market”.
I think you’re wrong. There’s a consensus that the UK must maintain market access and free trade, but that’s a rather different matter.
As a respected commentator, I’m sure that you are well aware of the difference between a Free Trade Area and the Single Market — though that was not apparent in your piece, which makes no mention of free trade. So for the avoidance of doubt, let me clarify. The Single Market is a Customs Union, not a Free Trade Area. The Customs Union is an old-fashioned and sub-optimal form of trade organisation, so much so that no other group of advanced economies has adopted it. It is based on Bismarck’s idea of a “Zollverein”. Membership means that our trade policies are outsourced to Brussels, and we are unable to make our own trade deals.
But the Single Market is more than a straightforward Customs Union. It is also overlaid by a massive superstructure of regulation, which most business people agree is excessively restrictive and expensive. Some credible estimates of the annual cost to the UK of European regulation run to over £100 bn a year — a massive drain on our economy.
If we were to leave the EU but remain in the Single Market (if that’s possible) we should be stuck with the trade controls, the regulatory costs, and probably the budget contributions — precisely the things which, in economic terms, we want to escape. Indeed the very concept of “out of the EU but in the Single Market” is meaningless, since the Single Market is most of the EU.
Those of us who believe that we should be “Better Off Out” would argue for full independence, plus a free trade agreement. Such an agreement can certainly be achieved, because it is overwhelmingly in the interests of both parties, and of Brussels more than the UK (since we are a net importer from the EU). It is also required in the Treaties for the EU to negotiate such an agreement with a departing member-state. Even in the unthinkable case that we left the EU with no such agreement, the duties we should pay on our exports to the EU would be a mere fraction of our current net EU budget contributions.
Like most apologists for the EU, you make a comparison with Switzerland (in terms not very obliging to the Swiss). At least you don’t mention Norway, as many do. But why do they always compare an independent UK to small countries like Switzerland and Norway? In terms of GDP, the UK lies between the USA and Canada, and like them, forms part of the Anglosphere. An EU/Canada FTA is under negotiation, but had the UK been an independent nation we should surely have struck such a deal years ago.
There is clearly no question of the USA or Canada applying for EU membership. So why do we think it benefits us?
We hear a lot about “regulation by fax” for non-member countries involved in trade deals with the EU. But I am not aware that Mexico or Korea (which have FTAs with the EU), or the USA and Canada (which are discussing them) have such worries. EU apologists persistently seek to conflate the need to conform to EU regulations on exports to the EU (just as we have to meet US regulations on exports to the US) with subjection to the whole gamut of EU regulation. I worked in international businesses for thirty years; it is a commonplace that an exporter has to conform to the local rules of his export market. That’s not at all the same as being subjected to wholesale regulation — still less political control.
You worry, Damian, about the UK’s position in the event of an EU/USA FTA (which may take a long time to arrive). But any such deal will undoubtedly also involve current EFTA members in Europe.
I would call on you to remember that the Single Market is not just about free trade, and that it carries a huge burden of baggage which is damaging our economy. We need free trade and market access, not Single Market membership. And we will be Better Off Out.