The 2016 referendum was too simple

The 2016 EU Referendum was a basic “Yes” or “No” answer. This is because the EU has several overlapping “spheres” of membership, including the European Economic Area (EEA) and the Customer Union. For a geopolitical and economic relationship this complex,  this simple question was not good enough.

Both Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage and other key players in the VoteLeave Campaign claimed that we would not be leaving the Single Market during and after the referendum. 

Farage openly, and almost constantly, praised Norway’s relationship with the EU, saying in 2016: “would it be so bad if, according to Mr Cameron, if we behave like Norway, life would be terrible. I mean, God, we’d all be rich!  we were like Norway. We’d be rich”. 

Now Farage is correct, sort of, even though the UK shifting from the EU to EEA would still have required a fair amount of negotiating. It would still have created some economic issues (after all, the EEA is less comprehensive than the Customs Union); it would be far better than our current relationship with our largest trading partner. 

What is the Single Market?

The Single Market, also called the Common Market, is an internal market comprising the EU27 plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway through the EEA, Switzerland through bilateral treaties, and Northern Ireland (de facto) through the withdrawal agreement. 

The single market seeks to guarantee the free movement of goodscapitalservices, and people, known collectively as the “four freedoms”. However, the EEA agreement has some limitations, such as limited access to specific EU policies like the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies and several more that can be viewed on the EFTA’s website

Limited access to the Single Market is all granted to none-EU states in the Balkans via the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have some participation through the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. The EU Customs Union also incorporates Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and Turkey. 

Case study: driver shortages

Most of the problems regarding shortages in the UK is the lack of delivery drivers, not the Pingdemic. The lack of HGV drivers is both the lack of British workers and the UK Government not considering HGV drivers important by refusing to grant drivers temporary visas.

Anyone who isn’t an out-of-touch MP knows that HGV drivers are essential because they deliver the medicine and food necessary for survival. The lack of drivers already having severe ramifications. There are food shortages in supermarkets, and doctors are now having to start rationing blood tests. These issues are expected to get much worse when the UK start custom checks on imports arriving from the Single Market (but the UK has once again delayed these checks because the Government still hasn’t prepared properly for border checks yet). 

The Government have come up with a few terrible ideas. Firstly, they have decided that lorry drivers are lazy and should work more hours by removing the driving hours limit. Anyone who has a driving license would know that driving for extended periods without a break is dangerous and would lead to more road accidents. 

The Government has also advised companies to hire British workers. This does make some sense. However, the pay is poor for the hours and being away from home for long periods. The average age of lorry drivers in the UK is 53, and only 2% are under 25. Most counties in western Europe have a domestic driver shortage, but freedom of movement from less wealthy EU countries makes up for this shortfall.

With a shortfall of approximately 50,000 HGV drivers, it would take months, possibly even years, for this shortfall to being filled with British workers. Hiring Briistsh staff is a long term solution, but the shortages are happening right now, so an immediate solution needs to be found; after all, training staff takes time. It would only take a week at most for the UK to change its visa policy to grant temporary work visas for HGV drivers. Membership of the Single Market would remove this issue altogether. 

Other issues that would be resolved

  • The Irish border that currently separates Northern Ireland (which is de facto part of the Single Market) from the UK’s internal market would no longer be an issue as they would both be in the Single Market.
  • There are already issues with imports and exports at the border, and when the UK starts customs checks, these problems will only worsen. Rejoining the Single Market would also mean no customs checks, no more rotting fish waiting to be exported, and less bureaucracy for businesses. 
  • EEA countries can still negotiate trade deals with non-EU countries, so that would keep the Global Britain brigade happy. 
  • British citizens would still be able to work, study, and retire in the EU without issue.
  • The UK would be able to access many of the benefits of EU members while not being forced to join some of the policies that are less palatable to Eurosceptics like the Common Fisheries Policy or the European Court of Justice. 
  • A 2018 report commissioned by the UK government under Theresa May found a Norway-style relationship with the EU to be the least damaging form of Brexit for the UK economy. In a time of economic uncertainty, the prospect of a somewhat decent relationship with the world largest market seems more crucial than ever. 

The Brexit Secretary agrees

David Frost, the current Brexit Secretary, described it best in June 2016: 

“Our interest is to be part of the biggest possible market with the fewest possible barriers … The European Single Market gives us that. The European free trade agreements give us that. Why would we depart from that?” 

That is an excellent question, David. Why did you allow the UK to depart that? 

Image: Call Me Fred on Unsplash

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