Among the plethora of lies, distortions and falsehoods perpetuated by Brexiteers, is the notion that Britain, free from the shackles of the EU will be able to strike trade deals that will dramatically create new opportunities for British companies b opening up markets across the globe.
As UK ministers continue to struggle to procure post-Brexit trade deals - most notably this week at the Commonwealth Summit - the European Union today formally approved free trade agreements (FTAs) with Japan and Singapore, highlighting once again the benefits of remaining in the EU customs union.
Scottish Labour MEP David Martin is today warning that unless Britain secures a Brexit deal with the fullest possible access, it will not enjoy the benefits of the new EU-Japan trade deal, the initial agreement of which was signed in Brussels today.
The general election proves there is no appetite for a hard Brexit – and now is the perfect time to change our minds. After Theresa May’s disastrous election gamble, it is clear the British public have rejected her plans for an extreme job-destroying Brexit. MPs are now scrambling to find a softer option that includes staying in the free trade area. However, once the sad reality of this Norway-type deal becomes clear, who is to say the people won’t change their minds again? The option of remaining in the EU must be put back on the table.
Rewind one year to the EU referendum campaign. The Vote Leave team told us that Brexit didn’t have to mean the end of the single market membership. As fellow MEP and Tory Brexiteer Daniel Hannan confidently said: “Absolutely no-one is talking about threatening our place in the Single Market.” Both Switzerland and Norway were pointed to as examples of rich and successful societies that Britain could copy. Arron Banks, billionaire UKIP- backer, tweeted: “Increasingly, the Norway option looks the best for the UK”.
After the vote, they quickly changed their tune. Farage and his gang now say anything but an economically suicidal exit from our most important trading relationship as a betrayal of the people. In a desperate attempt to claw back lost votes from the far-right the Prime Minister tried to surf this wave of anti-EU feeling and became UKIP-light. Fortunately, on June 8th most British people refused to get behind the Tories and Mrs May’s Brexit plans lie in tatters. In her cabinet, voices calling for continued membership of the single market are gaining confidence and even senior Leave figures such as Michael Gove are now refusing to rule out cross-party cooperation on the Brexit issue.
In some ways, the Norwegian option does give back the control that some Brits were craving. Norway controls its own fishing, and it has more flexibility on farming exports and in its trade with other countries. However, there are serious problems with the deal they have struck with the EU. Most importantly, they pay their membership fees but have no say on the rules of the club. They must accept EU environment, energy, employment and social policies, budget decisions and product standards without any representation in the European Parliament or the Council of Ministers. For Norway, with its large oil fund and small-country mindset, this compromise is just about acceptable. However, for a country like the UK to be a rule-taker and not a rule-maker would be difficult to swallow for both Leavers and Remainers. It is a messy compromise that leaves everybody unhappy.
Theresa May has been described as a 'dead woman walking' by George Osborne (Photo: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters) There is, of course, another option. Whisper it, but we have not yet left the EU. Why not just stay where we are? That way we keep the economic benefits of the single market and get a meaningful say in its future direction. The EU’s economy, unlike ours, is starting to look up, and with the defeat of the eurosceptics in Holland and France there is a renewed swagger across the channel. Let us join our closest allies once again and forget this sorry period in British history. Of course, after Article 50 was triggered in the House of Commons back in March, the timer has already been set. Each tick brings us closer to the cliff edge. Lawyers are already bickering about whether we could turn around or not. What is clear is that it if we could change our minds, it would require the ok of 27 other EU governments.
But would they really say no to their third biggest member returning to the club, genuinely remorseful and with a renewed, positive attitude? What a political win that would be from their perspective - strengthening the EU for decades more. But hang on a minute. What about the democratic side of this? Surely, the UK voted for Brexit and it is our job as politicians to deliver it? Well I represent the people of Scotland who, as we all know, voted by a huge majority to stay in the EU. I am just doing my job.
As for my other British colleagues, I would argue that this last election has shown how politics is a fickle business. May’s slim majority evaporated in a matter of months, precisely because she embraced Brexit so warmly. Now that the dust has settled on the 2016 campaign and voters can clearly see the lies that they were fed, I am convinced that a second referendum, if held, could easily swing back the other way. The Tories’ defeat last week provides a unique opportunity to change Britain’s direction.
Obviously, in a choice between a bad Brexit and one that’s even worse, the bad Brexit wins out. But these are not the only two options. The people changed their minds on Theresa May, why not on Brexit too?
The Daily Record, June 17 1917
Theresa May's rhetoric is aimed at one audience only, the backbenchers who secretly wanted this scenario all along.
Following this morning's announcement from the European Court of Justice (ECJ), that the EU’s free trade deal with Singapore must be ratified by a total of 43 national and regional parliaments, David Martin, Scottish MEP, S&D spokesperson for trade with South East Asia and Rapporteur for the EU-Singapore FTA, said:
In September 2014 I voted to keep Scotland in the UK. In June 2016 I voted to keep the UK in the European Union.
On Article 50 day, as Mrs May sends her letter to the European Council outlining Britain’s plans to leave the 28-member bloc, David Martin, Scotland’s most senior MEP, said:
It will be of no surprise to anyone reading this that I disagree with the First Minister on many issues, not least that of Scottish independence. But we do agree on one important point. We both want Scotland to have the closest possible relationship with our European partners following a Brexit neither of us wanted.
This is why I agreed to join the First Minister’s Standing Council on Europe, which inspired the Scottish government’s recent paper, Scotland’s Place in Europe.
This is the first detailed plan on Brexit from any government in the UK, and Mrs Sturgeon should be commended for her attempt to advance the national debate. The paper suggests three options: one, the UK stays in the single market; two, independence; and three, which is the most innovative, whereby Scotland seeks a ‘differentiated’ solution, remaining a member of the single market and part of the UK even as it leaves the EU.
After Theresa May’s speech at Lancaster House, those three choices have now become two: we know now that the UK will leave the single market.
It is my view that though Brexit increases the emotional support for independence - as it reveals another issue where mainstream Scottish opinion is different to that of the English, it simultaneously damages the economic argument. Although Scotland relies on the European single market for its trade, it relies an awful lot more on the long-established single market with the rest of the UK.
In the First Minister’s third option is an implicit recognition of this fact. Economically, it makes sense not to cut Scotland off from either market, so why not try to stay in both?
The plan, for part of a non-member state to retain access to the single market and to remain part of a customs union with that non-member state, is certainly audacious. It is also unprecedented, although in the paper the authors go to great lengths to point out that individual aspects of the arrangement do have precedents, like Greenland and the Faroe Islands - territories of a member state (Denmark) with bespoke deals that let them be outside the EU.
The paper also points to the UK government’s insistence that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as proof of ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’.
Although it answers many questions, the paper also poses many more, such as how will they manage the administrative burden of two separate tariff rates within the same territory? What happens when the UK starts making its own trade deals?
So far, so technical. But letting Scotland access the single market means us accepting the EU’s four freedoms, which of course means devolution of immigration and business regulation, hitherto a no-no in even the most generous devolution deal.
All in all this is a good first attempt to find the right solution for Scotland. We now have a head start in planning terms. It’s about time the rest of the UK caught up.
It seems trite to say it, but protecting Scotland’s, and the UK’s, interests as Brexit rolls forward is not a simple exercise. Brexit is complicated and the solutions and processes required to fix it will be complicated, not least because we have seen so little clarity from the UK government on what they actually want to achieve. Now is the time for those of us who can work together to work together across parties and borders to find solutions.
We feel for journalists trying to cover Brexit as we all try to make sense of it all, but the shorthand usually used to get the complex ideas across never quite works. From ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ to ‘clean’ or ‘cliff’ through to even ‘red white and blue’ Brexit, journalists and politicians alike have desperately tried to find terminology that explains what is going to happen, in vain. Anyone attempting to pretend it is simple and straightforward is either uninformed themselves or trying to mislead. The four-dimensional challenge set by the Brexit vote was to find a solution that measured up to what the UK majority want (assuming a consensus can be found) while taking into account the specific political and economic circumstances in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, and does as little damage as possible to all our economies and reputational damage to our state in the wider world.
The good news is the EU is good at finding solutions. The bad news is that the Prime Minister, in thrall to the extremists in her own ranks, seems uninclined to explore them lest she be accused of compromise or weakness. There is still time, even if or when Article 50 is triggered. We have published an analysis of a range of places across the EU’s territory that have exactly such constitutional exceptions as we need to explore to find answers to our own conundrums. We offer it to the discussion as evidence that solutions can be found if there is a will to find them.
The assertion that ‘we can do it better’ outside the single market is simply not grounded in reality, and we should delay while we properly consider the implications of leaving. There has been woefully inadequate preparation for the scale of the task ahead. Even the creation of our own WTO schedules will be a long process and fraught with difficulty, practical, logistical and political. There is no simple “reverting to WTO status”. Negotiating our own deals is not yet even practically possible, because we do not know what terms we can offer. Firstly we need to deal with Article 50, then conclude a trade deal with the EU, then negotiations with the 63 countries that the EU currently has deals with to replicate or renegotiate their terms, only then can we turn to the 160 or so countries in the WTO to complete our new, post Brexit, schedules. Only once we have those schedules can discussions start on such new deals as may be possible. Leaving the Single Market is neither easy nor painless, and the UK government needs, urgently, to seriously explore other options. There are plenty of them.
And there is the domestic context. If the rest of the UK is to leave the Single Market, and we do not believe it should, then keeping Scotland (potentially alongside Northern Ireland and Gibraltar) within it should be an objective of the UK Government. This is a reasonable compromise that would reflect where Scotland is, politically, economically and as a society.
The EU is flexible. As members of the Standing Council on Europe who advised Scotland's First Minister this is something we have made clear throughout, and ventilate in the paper.
Campione d'Italia, Büsingen am Hochrhein and Livigno are parts of the EU enclosed by the territory of Switzerland and have had arrangements put in place to ensure they can operate as distinct economies. The Faroe Islands, Åland Islands and Heligoland are just some of the territories that have some form of variable geometry within Europe again to respect their unique geographic and political circumstances. San Marino, Svalbard, the UK Sovereign Bases of Akrotiri and Dhekelia give more examples. The list goes on and that is before we go beyond the immediate area of the continent of Europe. Closer to home, we already see variable geometry in action in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man. Around 60 territories and nations have some sort of flexible relationship with the rest of Europe, and there are plenty of differences across the member states themselves. There is no one size fits all, quite the opposite.
None of them provide a direct template for Scotland, the UK, nor anywhere else, but they do illustrate the potential flexibility that exists and that can be deployed to find answers that work. The EU can and does provide flexible solutions. Any solution will be complex, awkward even, and will need serious political heft behind it. But solutions are possible. We need to see a greater common political will to find them. Let’s not rush in until we have.