The EU is not just a common rule book but a regulatory superpower

On Sunday’s Marr programme, Michael Gove thought that Britain can have a ‘common rule book’ with the EU but when new regulations arrive Parliament will have the right to veto them.

This is decidedly disingenious, to say the least. The UK Parliament is already supreme, so currently has the absolute right to reject new regulations. It sometimes delays but never rejects of course, because these regulations have been agreed beforehand. That’s what being part of the EU means. Gove’s contention is for the birds. By leaving the UK will have no input into the making of the regulations in the first place but can, Gove suggests, tell the EU we will not accept some regulations  – and he thinks that will have no effect on our being in the Customs Union or single market. He is either deluded or lying.

And this is, of course not particular to the EU. Any trade agreement will necessitate standard, common rules. If the Chequers fudge is this bad I cannot see the EU considering it remotely acceptable.

But as Ivan Rogers, the UK’s former Brussels chief until resigning (apparently feeling he could no longer tell it like it is as opposed to as Leavers might wish it to be), said in May at Glasgow University in an excellent speech which goes to the nub of the issue:

‘…Michel Barnier has … expressed surprise that so many of the UK documents read like ones from a state aspiring to accede to the EU, not one intending to leave it. I confess I slightly share the puzzlement. So many of the positions in these documents read a good deal more enthusiastic about the case for remaining closely aligned to EU policy than most of the instructions I ever received from Departments when negotiating over years on their behalf in Brussels!’

Thus we have the rather odd sight of politicians who, as is their perfect right, made a case for Brexit on the basis of national sovereignty, autonomy and control, and not primarily on economic grounds, objecting to being confronted with sovereigntist arguments from the EU27.

You simply cannot, with any honesty or coherence, make an argument for taking back control and full autonomy of decision-making on the UK side of the Channel, and simultaneously argue for the EU27 to restrict to a certain extent its own autonomous decision-making precisely in order to give you, a non-member of the club, a real say in the direction of its policy.

Because, if we are leaving it is that we want to diverge and differentiate in substantial areas. For the other side, continuity on Day 1 is the reddest of red herrings. They want to know where we intend to end up on Day 2, day 200 and day 2000.

And they assume that must be really rather radically different, or we would not be Brexiting. What the Brexiteers position is then is a very strange thing for them to believe!!!!

The correct way to think of the EU in economic terms is as a “regulatory union”, with the appetite and ability to extend its rules extraterritorially: the so-called Brussels effect. The EU is a superpower in no other respect. But in this critical one, it is. And the idea that, on its own, the UK, can compete with massive regional trading blocs – the EU, the US, China – as a standard setter, on industrial goods to data, is an illusion. And leaving a regulatory union, including a Customs Union is really much more difficult than leaving a free trade area.

The government must recognise that if the UK wants to trade in the twenty first century then that involves loss of sovereignty (just as members of society, in being part of that society, give up some individual rights and sovereignty).

Loss of sovereignty involves regulation and a legal framework. There are currently three choices: China, the US or the EU. The largest and most sophisticated is the EU and it happens to be nearest – oh and the UK is already part of it.

The question Gove has to answer is why he prefers the US or China.

And Marr didn’t even try to ask him that simple but very fundamental question.



  1. Sean Danaher -

    Gove is of course lying. He is desperate to get any form of Brexit over the line and terrified that the 29th March deadline may be postponed indefinitely. Once any form of Brexit has been achieved he can work over the next decade to push for a much harder Brexit. The Norway model is unstable according to the Cake-watch team and will lead to years of bickering and infighting.

    A bit like Michael Collins and the Irish Free State in the treaty – a very imperfect Irexit from the UK.. Collins of course paid with his life and deValera took over. It has been pointed out that JRM and deValera are very similar in many ways.

  2. Peter May -

    Very interesting, thank you. He also quotes from Ivan Rogers! Crazy that the intelligent insights of this man, who had been in Brussels for some considerable time were deemed surplus to requirements.
    I also agree with Anthony Barnett:
    “The underlying premise of Brexit is that sovereignty is simple. It is not. If it ever was, it isn’t simple now. It is complex, multi-layered and in the age of corporations no longer something nation states can monopolise over their territory. Hence Brexit cannot be ‘Brexit’, as in Boris Johnson’s call for a “full British Brexit”. Sovereignty is no longer a meal we can eat alone.”

    1. Samuel Johnson -

      > no longer a meal we can eat alone

      Exchange, following today’s Sun story about govt stockpiling food (to persuade EU that UK is ready for no deal?):

      > We can survive on vimto and fish & chips

      Most fish sold in UK are caught by EU fishermen. If there’s no deal, no fish. About 80% of potatoes are imported (raw, processed, seed), most via the EU. Vimto is based on grape juice, fortunately the UK grows enough grapes.

  3. Peter May -

    Yes, I saw that – somebody said (doubtless thinking of Monty Python) that it was going to be a Spam,Spam,Spam Brexit, but it’s actually no laughing matter as the Jay Rayner article you linked to (thanks for that) makes clear.

    Grapes, as you suggest, the UK is growing more and more of, but I doubt whether the grape growers will be too happy supplying at Vimto prices rather than prices for posh sparkling wine!

    PS Thanks again for the Jay Rayner link. Rather disturbing to find he thinks as I do…

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