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Writing for The Daily Telegraph, Open Europe Co-Director Stephen Booth argues that if politicians simply return to a narrow debate about how much control the UK can secure over migration in return for continued trade access to the EU’s single market, which was also the crux of David Cameron’s negotiations, it is difficult to see how there will be a different result other than further stalemate.
This article was first published in The Telegraph on 2 July 2016.
Launching her Conservative Party leadership bid, Theresa May highlighted the next government’s Brexit dilemma very clearly. “It must be a priority to allow British companies to trade with the single market in goods and services – but also to regain more control of the numbers of people who come here from Europe,” she said.
Following last week’s post-Brexit summit in Brussels, European Union leaders issued a strong statement making it “crystal clear” that access to the single market “requires acceptance of all four freedoms”, including the free movement of people. This trade-off is real. For its remaining members, the EU ceases to be a club if those who leave can keep all the privileges without the obligations. Neither the so-called ‘Norwegian’ nor ‘Canadian’ models deliver enough of what British voters or businesses want. Norway means giving up too much democratic control over regulation and immigration in return for market access, while Canada enjoys independence but far less market access in key industries such as financial services than we’re used to.
As Britain launches into another hotly-contested political campaign, this time to crown a new prime minister, we must all hope that it produces a better plan for reaching a new settlement with the EU than simply re-running the negotiations David Cameron conducted in February. Other EU member states genuinely felt they had given Mr Cameron a significant package but, as the referendum campaign illustrated, it was not enough to convince the British electorate to back continued EU membership. In order to get the best deal this time, Britain must be prepared to think bigger and convince our European partners to do the same. If politicians simply return to a narrow debate about how much control the UK can secure over migration in return for continued trade access to the EU’s single market, which was also the crux of Mr Cameron’s negotiations, it is difficult to see how there will be a different result other than further stalemate.
As many on the Leave side of the argument pointed out at the time, if EU leaders weren’t prepared to offer fundamental reform when voters were on the brink of electing to leave, when will they? Add the fact that, in the wake of the Brexit vote, emotions are running high on both sides of the Channel, and the risk is that a new round of negotiations will degenerate into real bitterness and tit-for-tat mercantilism, which would do real long-term economic harm to Britain but also to the rest of Europe. However, as time allows the implications of this historic vote to sink in, it should become clearer to all parties that there is more at stake than just the details of trade terms and immigration control.
Debating whether Britain should follow a Norwegian or Canadian model in its trade relations with the EU completely overlooks Britain’s wider and pivotal role in Europe’s geopolitics. As Europe’s leading member of NATO, Britain has played a significant part in providing the security and stability which has enabled the EU to develop and enlarge to the East. For Central and Eastern European members that joined in the 2000s, it was NATO membership that preceded EU membership.
After driving such a hard bargain over the issue of free movement in Mr Cameron’s February negotiations, it is telling that it is these countries that have displayed the greatest public dismay at the prospect of Britain’s withdrawal. Rather than treating each as silos, Britain and the EU would both benefit from a new strategic European partnership, encompassing defence, security, trade and immigration. The security and defence element of this partnership might involve joint UK-EU border patrol missions in the Mediterranean or extra British support for NATO in Eastern Europe. Incidentally, much of this is already happening, albeit on a smaller scale. Nothing comes for free and this would entail an economic contribution from the UK. But funding this wider European cooperation rather than paying directly into the EU budget is likely to be an easier political sell to British voters.
Within this broad new strategic partnership, the UK and the EU could simultaneously raise their ambitions for the future and lower the stakes in the current standoff. It would surely be easier to reach a workable compromise that could fulfil Britain’s desire for greater immigration control and provide for a comprehensive free trade agreement if both sides saw these as important elements of a new relationship rather than a damage limitation exercise. The precise detail of this new relationship would be the work of many years but if there could be early joint agreement that this should be the destination then procedural questions, such as exactly when to trigger the EU’s formal Article 50 exit clause, would be easier to navigate.
A strong signal that all these issues will be handled responsibly by Britain and the EU would boost confidence amongst nervous allies such as the United States and investors who are keen on economic and, just as importantly, political stability. There is no guarantee that the EU would accept such a proposal. Realising it would require statesmanship on everyone’s part. But unless Britain is prepared to think in grander terms and put its best offer forward, then it cannot expect the EU to do the same.
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@Ullamh @RikH But donot you think that represantative democracy in its current form is if not outdated, simply not have any correction mechanism other than a referendum.Apparently it takes several decades for the political system that has clearly alienated from the electorate to resettle. Even longer in 2 party states where having newcomers to the market looks often an illusion.So again my point, how does the present system solves these 2 issues (reversal of imho pretty idiotic decisions (as absolutely probably in a majority of the countries no sustainable popular support) and possibility of revitalising itself with new parties.The US is/was worse with half the people not voting and approval of Congress sometimes even below 10% ( not nett that is often >70%). A system clearly simply not doing where it was set up for (representing the people).
@RikH @Ullamh There is indeed a serious problem with representative democracy. Its original justifications as it emerged in its modern form in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Britain were a combination of two sorts of argument: 1) that it was literally impossible for all citizens to gather together regularly to take direct part in state decision-making and so a smaller group of representatives was in practice obviously necessary; and 2) the mass of citizens lacked education and expertise in state decision-making and so chosen representatives with more skill and experience would do the job more effectively and deliver better outcomes for everyone. Clearly these two justifications have come under increasing pressure: 1) is no longer quite so convincing because the emergence of the Internet and the possibilities for electronic voting do in principle make involving all citizens in decision-making rather than just a representative group a real practical possibility; and 2) the advent of mass education and unprecedented access to information allied to all-time-high levels of suspicion about the motives and preferences of out-of-touch elites and about granting too much power to professional career politicians mean that public faith in the supposedly superior judgment of representatives has never been lower. All of this means that at the very least we need to have a mature debate about how a representative system works in the 21st century. Certainly we can't assume that the conventional arguments for not involving the wider population directly in key decision-making processes are as persuasive as they once were.
@Ullamh What do you see as a solution for the underlying problem that 52% of the population has a certain view and a vote in Parliament could well have been 500-1 or something like that (when UKIP had not risen that could well have been the case). Apparently the present system in no way represents the ideas of the electorate and is also sticky (as in not able to change from traditional party views when the electorate wants that for decades).Of course the solution should have been the UK not signing up for things when there was no sustainable platform for it, however they did that time and time again. This is the underlying problem. If you solve that you would not have required a referendum.
@RikH That's the problem with representative democracy, the principle on which the EU is founded. ("The functioning of the Union shall be founded on representative democracy" - Article 10.1 TEU.)
Blaming nameless bureaucrats in Brussels was, and remains, a convenient cover to avoid facing up to this fact. If the UK "signed up to things when there was no sustainable platform for it" it is the fault of those UK politicians who signed up to them when in power and nobody else's. Quitting the EU in a huff based on a deliberately distorted version of how it works is hardly the right solution.
" If the UK "signed up to things when there was no sustainable
platform for it" it is the fault of those UK politicians who signed up
to them when in power and nobody else's."
I agree, but would widen it to it being "the fault of the UK political system and those UK politicians who signed up
to them". The entire existence of the referendum is predicated on the UK political system being so stuck in its patronising bubble of arrogance, with no mainstream party standing on a mandate of EUsceptisim. Finally, when the UK government correctly allows the people a binary choice on the EU, a result emerges that shakes their tree rather more than they thought.
Quitting the EU is the only sensible thing to do, insofar that Juncker admitted that the EU can't and won't change. The pique & huff is all on the other side of the Channel.
When the Italian banks collapse in the autumn, when the Greek bailout is unaffordable, when Netherlands votes for Wilders next March, when a fifth of German, French, Spanish and Italian car and white goods manufacturing workers are made redundant by the end of 2017; even serial pessimists & doomcriers like you will have to grudgingly admit that UK is in a better position being out, than all the others who stayed in.
@David Horton Good luck with that! It's all going so swimmingly up to this point.
Even in a wider context as part of further opening up for trade with the rest of the world (the part that grows). The UK should focus more on other markets to spread risks but also the growth is there (the economic growth as well as the foreign trade)>
This is just more pie in the sky. The consequences of an irresponsible political decision, for party political reasons, to hold a referendum,asking for a black or white decision on on issues that ordinary members of the public could not possibly come to an informed decision upon, are now evident to everyone, it would seem, other than those attempting to find some logic in what has happened. There is none.
It is now almost impossible to imagine a scenario that will halt the slide to further damage other than to invite everyone to look forward to their holidays.
@Ullamh What a silly comment. It is absurd, it is simply absurd in an advanced democracy to argue that the British people should not have been given a referendum. The fact that a normal constitutional exercise hasn't concluded the way you might have liked doesn't invalidate the process. The British people hadn't been given a referendum on Europe for 40 years, and were rightly owed one.
@damidude That is where you are entirely mistaken. Referendums are utterly foreign to the UK constitutional order. The idea that one should be on tap for issues at to whether the UK should be in or out of an international European cooperation that has endured for half a century, without any concept of the consequences, or any plan to deal with them, is what is absurd. Look around you!
@damidude FYI in support of the point that I make.