Time for Second Thoughts

The terms Single Market and Customs Union are bandied about but I’m never quite sure what the difference is so I was pleased to listen to a radio four programme which tried to distinguish them.

The single market is really the bit that was the British idea. Anyone can have access to it provided they comply with its regulations. Being part of it just means you get to help to make the regulations. Not being part of it doesn’t preclude access, but means you are a rule taker rather than a rule maker.

The four freedoms of movement of goods, people, capital and services take place in the single market once you have access to it.

The customs union is about tariffs. If you are inside it there are none but if you are not then many of the goods supplied to it will be subject to tariffs, unless you have a specific trade deal.

This leads me to conclude that this is the nub of the dilemma.

Brexiteers simply imagined, in a hazy sort of way that Britain could swap access for its services to the EU, for the EU to supply the UK with food, drink, cars and machinery. Job done.

The Continentals, more accustomed to abstact thought than the their pragmatic British cousins, see this as muddying the waters.
They have a system. The law is codified.

There is no access for services unless you are part of the single market and the four freedoms aren’t divisible in any case. So there can certainly be no access for services if Britain won’t countenance freedom of movement.

This is all pretty simple stuff really and entirely predictable to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Continent.

And Britain has no pragmatic incentives it can offer for a change in the status quo.

It is ever more obvious that Brexit is a toxic combination of ignorance and arrogance – and probably the worst arrogance was to offer a simplistic referendum in the first place.

I fear that, as with so many referendums in the EU, the eventual outcome will be to think again. I sincerely hope it is.


  1. Jeni Parsons aka havantaclu -

    Did you read John Harris the other day in the ‘Guardian’? He’s apparently re-visited ‘Leave’ strongholds and found them still as vehemently solid in their desire to leave as ever. There seems to have been a visceral feeling that joining the EU finished our influence and prosperity – especially in the North of England. Certainly my husband’s brother-in-law (ex-Army and a late Victorian caricature!) felt the same in the suburbs of Poole.
    That this feeling was cleverly exploited by Johnson, Gove and Co can be seen from our perspective – but the ‘Britannia rules the waves’ set are never going to be convinced that their view is anachronistic. As for those in areas of decline, they still haven’t been told that what little prosperity fell to their lot during the last thirty years came from the EU’s grants and programmes – and it’s too late to try to tell them now!

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Indeed I read John Harris’s piece yesterday and discussed it with my wife on our dog walk. It is very sad. My wife is very depressed about Brexit, as a leading Intensive Care consultant in the NHS she was incensed by the £350M campaign, knows that for the NHS leaving the EU will be disastrous, and is possibly even more vitriolically anti Brexit than I am. The really sad thing is that it is those very same Leave Strongholds which will be mostly affected by Brexit.

      1. Jeni Parsons aka havantaclu -

        Yes – they ‘know’ it in their heart-of-hearts, but cannot bring themselves to realise the truth.
        It is always easier to deny anything that is personally painful, I suppose.

  2. Jeni Parsons aka havantaclu -

    Good article in ‘New European’
    ‘The problem with the English: England doesn’t want to be just another member of a team ‘
    (for some reason it wouldn’t copy and paste!)
    Seems to sum up what’s wrong – and it’s psychological. Whereas the Scots and the Irish are able to accept small-nation status, England can’t. It hasn’t forged a new identity for itself, and the birthpangs haven’t even been recognised for what they are, because it gave up ‘Englishness’ to forge ‘Britain’, which is breaking up.

      1. Jeni Parsons aka havantaclu -

        That’s the one!

  3. Peter May -

    There is a good FT article (which seems to open to all) here:
    where the author says the UK negotiators are not even negotiating with the right people as they are firstly trying to win over their own backbenchers and ensure press support! Only after that do they consider the EU 27.

    1. Jeni Parsons aka havantaclu -

      Why do I not find this surprising?

  4. Allen Bell -

    Japan has access to the Single Market but does not have to accept free movement of workers.
    But while you are feeling inclined to give lessons to others, why don’t you answer this question? I can name 9 self-governing territories in Northern and Western Europe that are not EU members. Can you name one that is worse off ( GDP/head by PPP will do ) than its nearest EU neighbour.

    1. Peter May -

      Probably not, though these self governing countries can’t be large.
      Britain is at least the second largest country in Europe by population and cannot feed itself.
      It has to trade. The EU is the largest free trade union in the world and it is next to the UK. So it is not the smartest idea to thumb our noses at them, particularly as the one economic rule that really does stay consistent even in these days of the intenet, is that if you double the distance you halve the trade.
      Britain is physically in Europe and it cannot up sticks and motor off to another mooring.
      And absolutely anyone can have access to the single market by complying with its rules. Japan, as I understand it doesn’t have access to the ‘single market’ of people, capital, or services but is likely in the future to have acccess to the single market for goods.

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