Since the Leave vote hit us, it has occurred to me just how little the political class understands our relationship with the EU pre-referendum, never mind what the public has really absorbed on the subject. There have been many misapprehensions, but the one that really stands out is the idea that somehow we can stay inside the single market while limiting free movement.
This is another thing that – sadly in this case – does not conform to a right-left axis. Boris Johnson, in what is now a rightly infamous post-Brexit vote piece of folly, wrote in the Daily Telegraph about how we would remain inside the single market easily while getting rid of everything we didn’t like. Which both included and did not include freedom of movement (it was a very confused article, if you will recall).
Meanwhile, John McDonnell has got in on the act. In a speech that might even be more confusing than Boris’ shower of rubbish Telegraph spot, the shadow chancellor said that in no uncertain terms, Brexit meant the end of freedom of movement. In the same speech, he went onto to say that remaining in the single market should be the highest priority.
I don’t mind when someone in Boston or Skegness that has better things to think about doesn’t understand the intricacies of this stuff, but Jesus, could our top politicians, such as the shadow chancellor of the Exchequer and the prime minister heir apparent (at least when he wrote the article) at least have some clue about how the most basic things to do with the EU, and indeed the single market, work?
No one has ever been allowed into the single market without allowing freedom of movement. No one. Not Norway, not Switzerland, no one. In fact, the Swiss have been trying to get the EU to budge on this one for the last eighteen months to no avail. To be clear, being in the single market is different than getting access to the single market. Getting access to the single market is extremely easy – you just buy stuff from it with whatever tariffs exist as well as whatever restrictions apply. If you want inside of it, i.e. no tariffs and able to move goods inside of it with no hassle, then you have to accept freedom of movement.
Brexiteers like to speak a lot about the EU drifting away from its original premise as a customs union towards a political project. They have a point here, one I will begrudgingly concede. But equating freedom of capital and goods with freedom of the movement of people is a founding principle of the whole project, right from the start. It was in the EEC’s DNA. On a side note, why someone from the hard-left such as John McDonnell would wish to defend the right of capital to go anywhere it likes while labour just gets to stay put regardless, is way beyond me. But that is a larger question for another day.
For now, I would like to dispel this myth for anyone still cloudy on the detail, right here and now: if you want to be in the single market, you need to accept freedom of movement. The idea that the EU are going to allow us bunch who just went and threw a bomb into the European project an exemption on this are living in some parallel universe. To Leave voters out there: they want to sneak this past you by stealth. Stay alert.