In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen the media pounce on remarks by Boris Johnson to a Czech newspaper that we will ‘probably’ leave the customs union, and seize on scrawled notes (unwittingly displayed to the media by a Tory aide leaving Downing Street) suggesting the UK was ‘unlikely’ to remain in the single market.
And, astoundingly, these nuggets got reported as news.
As far as the single market is concerned, it could not have been clearer during the referendum campaign that a vote to Leave would mean leaving the single market. And you needn’t take my word for this. During the weeks of debate running up to the vote, prominent Remain campaigners like David Cameron, George Osborne and Angela Eagle were all explicit in saying exactly that.
It is our membership of the single market that has forced us to accept the unfettered free movement of people throughout the 28 member states and retaining it would prevent us from controlling immigration. Note that I say controlling rather than preventing: we have a long, proud history of welcoming immigrants to this country who make massive contributions to the British economy and the fabric of the nation. But that element of control is important.
Some have consciously muddied the waters to confuse single market membership with single market access. There is no question that we’ll be able to retain access to the single market after we have rescinded our membership: virtually every other country apart from pariah states like North Korea enjoy that – it is merely a question of the terms under which we will do so.
As for the customs union, our departure from it is another fundamental aspect of Brexit. Leave campaigners made it clear that one of the many benefits of Brexit will be the ability to do our own free trade deals with whomsoever we choose around the world. It was always clear that continued membership of the customs union would prevent us from doing that as we would still be tied to the EU’s common external tariff.
If Theresa May didn’t intend us leaving the customs union, she wouldn’t have created the new Department for International Trade with the remit to negotiate those trade deals.
Some disappointed Remain campaigners are demanding that the government pursue what they disingenuously call a ‘soft Brexit’ – some form of arrangement whereby the UK could leave the European Union but somehow remain a member of the single market and customs union.
That’s not ‘soft Brexit’, it’s non-Brexit.
Retaining customs union and single market membership would be a betrayal of the British people who voted in unprecedented numbers to take back control of our laws, our money, our borders and our trade policy. Moreover, a breach of trust of that order would be akin to an act of political suicide. It’s not going to happen.
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