The Single Market and the UK: A Little Bit of Heaven, A Little Bit of Hell
At the 11th hour of Brexit talks between Theresa May and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday 4th December, a veto mightier than the likes of what Johnson, Gove or Rees-Mogg could ever have dreamt of wielding was cast by ten Northern Irish MPs. The Democratic Unionist leader, Arlene Foster, had rung Theresa May to sabotage her underhand play diverging Northern Ireland from Britain, throwing phase one of the negotiations into disarray.
Indeed, the DUP’s scuppering of May’s promise to the EU of Northern Ireland’s forced ‘regulatory alignment’ averted a political, constitutional and potentially existential crisis in the UK. Not only did this majorly embarrassing event again highlight Theresa May’s incompetency to ‘Strengthen the Union’ — which I’d remind the Right Honourable member was one of the points made in the Lancaster House Speech! — but, taking place before the EU Commissioner President in the EU’s de facto capital, it reopened fresh Brexit-inflicted wounds in the UK’s devolved assemblies.
The heads of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and London Assembly stood in solidarity calling for a nationwide ‘regulatory alignment’. But what does this stupefying jargon mean? And what would the implications be of such ‘regulatory alignment’?
The implications are a Brexit ideologue’s nightmare. As a precursor and fundamental precondition to European Single Market access, ‘regulatory alignment’ euphemistically alludes to the upholding of certain EU quality, procedural and regulatory standards to set a level playing field for economic activity in the EU Single Market. Regulation serves both a functional and bureaucratic purpose; the correction of inefficient markets, and the expansion of technocratic bureaucracy – neither of which a staunch Brexiteer would accept in this battle for British sovereignty. But these are the principles they should accept, for the UK’s unity as we know it depends on regulatory alignment across the board.
The Single Market’s function in the UK has evolved considerably from that of the European Economic Community outlined in the Treaty of Rome. No longer will the emphasis be on the ‘lifting of living standards’, but I suggest, on the continuation of internal unity within the UK by avoiding anomalous regional divergence to the European Single Market, as earlier proposed by May. In fact, I believe Single Market membership to be safer than the decision made on Friday 8th to dish out EU citizenship to people born in Northern Ireland, since this preferential treatment will only add fuel to the fire of Scottish independence and London-based financiers.
We are currently at a noteworthy juncture in UK political history. The challenge now arises: the UK government must deliver a Brexit which abides by Theresa May’s Lancaster House Speech, where she promised to ‘restore…our parliamentary democracy, [and] national self-determination’. However, the realisation of such a restoration of sanctified parliamentary sovereignty conflicts with seven of May’s objectives; certainty, control of our laws, strengthening of the Union, maintaining the common travel area with Ireland, control of immigration, a Free Trade Agreement with Europe, and a smooth, orderly Brexit.
Certainty for businesses and the Belfast Agreement will be assured by Single Market access which would prevent a financial sector exodus to the continent and promise to maintain the common travel area with Ireland, avoiding a hard border. This in turn would strengthen the Union by underpinning territorial integrity of Northern Ireland – an action that would also guarantee that of Gibraltar, when that rears its head in the near future. All of this, in turn, would guarantee a smooth, orderly Brexit while ensuring economic certainty.
You may note that ‘control of our laws’ and ‘control of immigration’ were omitted. Since these objectives can be realised through various political interpretations, let’s just say that Brexiteers will be shrugged off through the illusory Brexit taking place before our very eyes. Compromise comes before dogma in the negotiations – consequently redefining the ‘consistency’ of our Brexit; something which is well illustrated by the decision for the European Court of Justice to remain the final appellate court over EU citizens’ rights in the UK for the immediate eight years following Brexit. The managing class is handling Brexit very differently than the self-appointed people’s spokesperson, Nigel Farage.
We may be leaving the EU on paper, but the reality is anything but that. We must continue to participate in EU institutions which serve us not just on a functional basis, where for example the Single Market provides the UK service industry with a £14 billion net surplus in trade over the EU, but limits EU member states’ leverage over UK territorial integrity. The logical incoherence of both protectionist and ultra-deregulation Tories must be bypassed by the Keynesian majority which can find support across the rest of the House.
Our consensus-building, representative democracy is taking back control from a fruitless stint of popular referenda. Now is the time for certainty to be restored, along with our economic and political dignity.
(Image courtesy of The Evening Standard)