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.