There has been a flurry of new information from major shadow cabinet figures about Brexit this week, after what seemed liked an enforced silence on the topic. Unfortunately, it all makes as much sense as it usually does. John McDonnell has jumped on the extremely irritating “a” customs union with the EU, not be confused with “the” Customs Union most politicians seem to know very little about and yet feel must be discarded bandwagon.
“We are not supporting membership of “the” Customs Union but we are looking at “a” customs union. The reason we are saying “a” customs union is because we don’t want the same asymmetric relationship that Turkey have got. What we would want is to negotiate around our ability to influence the trade negotiations that would take place on behalf of us all, both ourselves and other European countries in terms of trade via a customs union.”
Okay, just to start on a technical point, Turkey isn’t in “the” Customs Union – it has “a” customs union with the EU. Which, yes, is asymmetrical because for loads of reasons it would be better for Turkey to be in “the” Customs Union, but that’s not on offer. So, confusingly McDonnell says he wants “a” customs union, which is what Turkey has, but not “the” Customs Union. Yet he doesn’t want to be like Turkey. Do you still think calling Labour’s EU policy confusing an unfair generalisation?
In case you were wondering what the difference between “a” customs union and being in “the” Customs Union” actually is: if you are in “a” customs union” of any description with another trade bloc, let us say for argument, the EU, you have to adjust your tariffs to all be the same across the whole of the customs union covered. That what a customs union is. Neither Tory nor Labour frontbenches want to commit to staying in the Customs Union because it means you can’t strike trade deals with third countries. However, any sort of customs union with the EU would involve common tariffs. So, even if the UK was technically allowed to strike trade deals, that would be a useless power since we couldn’t offer any tariffs that differed from the EU, and the EU would have the de facto ability to scupper any trade deal anyhow since any trade deal would have to fit with their customs arrangements. In others words, the only difference between the UK being in “a” customs union with the EU as opposed to in “the” Customs Union is that the latter is much better since it’s clearer and more robust all the supposed benefits of the former are completely chimerical anyhow.
Onto what Emily Thornberry said this week about Brexit, and if you are feeling in anyway queasy already, please read the rest of this article when your constitution feels prepared for it. She said that being in a customs union with the EU was the only way to get round the Irish border problem – which has the advantage of actually being true. But then Thornberry said “Technically because we’re leaving the EU we can’t be in the customs union that we’re in now.” There is nothing “technically” stopping the UK from being inside the Customs Union post-Brexit – if the Commission was up for it and the British government wanted it, then it would happen.
Emily then went on to talk about what life would be like when we could strike trade deals with third countries: “I would say that we would take advantage of being in a partnership with the EU in order to be able to, for example, negotiate with China. China wouldn’t just be negotiating with Britain, it would be Britain and the EU.” Yes, Emily, I think there is a term for this kind of arrangement, this whole countries working with the EU to strike trade deals that will apply to both the country in question and the European Union as a whole. It’s called being a European Union member. But hey, perhaps that’s what Leavers really voted for after all: paying a lot of money to have a deal worse than Turkey gets while helping the EU strike trade deals we will only get partial, peripheral benefit from. Sign me up.
Why can’t people just say, ‘We want to be in a free trade area with the EU but not a customs union’? That’s what they mean. And then we could just re-join EFTA and be done with it.
What Leavers really voted for was the economic benefits of being in the EU, without the political integration that came in with Maastricht and later: EU citizenship, EU influence over social policy, the possibility of joining the Euro, the EU foreign office, and most especially this spitzenkandaten thing that tries to pretend that there is such a thing as an EU polity and the EU elections are real elections to a pan-EU parliament, like federal elections to Congress in the USA.
But if that’s not on offer, if the deal is either escaping the political integration but getting none of the economic benefits or keeping the economic benefits but at the price of going along with the political integration, then Leavers would rather leave (clue’s in the name) because the economic benefits, nice as they are to have, are not worth the political integration.
David Tannahill says
Brilliant simple summary of leavers perceptions and demands.
It is of course based on a fantasy : that EU is a political union in the making.
It’s a trade body dressed up in political clothing with the Euro playing an economic function.
We have become good members and it’s been working for us except in the area of immigration where austerity and a low income economy has turned the working class and the low skilled against immigrants.
The leaver leaders use xenophobia to stir that valid discontent with austerity and low incomes into EU phobia.
It’s a trade body dressed up in political clothing
If that were rue then there should be no trouble getting rid of the political clothing (the flags and anthems, the EU citizenship, the social policies, the spitzenkandaten). And if they’d done that then the vote would have been clearly for leave.
But they won’t because for most of them it is a political union project.
I mean, what possible point is there for spitzenkandaten except for to try to pretend that EU elections are a meaningful election across a single European polity, and that a German who votes for the CDU, a Latvian who votes for Unity, and an Irishman who votes for Fine Gael, are all equally voting for Jean-Claude Juncker to be Commission President, in the same way that someone in California and someone in Florida and someone in Maine could all vote for Donald Trump in a single election?
“What Leavers really voted for was the economic benefits of being in the EU, without the political integration…”
This is one of most typical statements about British Euro-scepticism. It is really rather naive. Setting the rules for economic activity is one of the main purposes of political institutions. The rules for trade are inseparably connected with a lot of other important issues: employment conditions, levels of pay, health, safety and environment rules, intellectual property rights and so on. Establishing close economic integration between a group of neighbouring countries means making joint rules for economic activity. To make, regulate, enforce and change these rules it is necessary to have joint institutions. This inevitably means political integration.
However, I think the people who say they want “the economic benefits of being in the EU, without the political integration” are not really talking about the practical activity of political institutions as bodies setting rules for economic activity. They are really concerned about the role of political institutions as symbols of identity, but do not say what they really mean. If they said what they really mean, it would read something like the following: “I recognize the practical value of economic cooperation, but I strongly feel that there has to be a strong, fully sovereign English / British nation state as a symbol of my identity.”
Unfortunately, this rejection of the idea of belonging to a community of Europeans is a declaration to the rest of Europe that Britain cannot be trusted.
They are really concerned about the role of political institutions as symbols of identity, but do not say what they really mean
Um, no, that is exactly what I (and I think most Leavers) both say and mean.
“I recognize the practical value of economic cooperation, but I strongly feel that there has to be a strong, fully sovereign English / British nation state as a symbol of my identity.”
Yep. This. Exactly.
Unfortunately, this rejection of the idea of belonging to a community of Europeans is a declaration to the rest of Europe that Britain cannot be trusted
Why? Lots of nations don’t belong to a community of Europeans and and still be trusted. Or do you think the Canadians can’t be trusted? Or the Swiss?
Why is political integration necessary for trust?
Any relationship or partnership requires trust. A closer relationship requires more trust than a more distant one. People need to have confidence that their partner will remain reliable even if things get difficult.
The EU is an attempt to gain the benefits of being a large unit like the USA, while allowing the member states to remain separate in important ways. I already stated in my first comment why the sort of economic cooperation found in the EU inevitably leads to political integration. I think in today’s globalized world only the biggest powers, especially the USA and China can really decide for themselves. I think smaller states are better off establishing joint institutions with their neighbours. The pro-remain leaflet from the 1975 referendum describes Brexit as “clinging to the shadow of British sovereignty, while the substance flies out of the window.” I think these words are as true today as they were in 1975 and 2016.
I already stated in my first comment why the sort of economic cooperation found in the EU inevitably leads to political integration
Right, but the point is there are other kinds of economic co-operation than that found in the EU, which don’t come with the cost of political integration, and it’s that kind of economic co-operation which Britain wants. That doesn’t make us untrustworthy, does it? I mean, does it make the Swiss untrustworthy?
The pro-remain leaflet from the 1975 referendum describes Brexit as “clinging to the shadow of British sovereignty, while the substance flies out of the window.” I think these words are as true today as they were in 1975 and 2016.
And some of us think they are as false today as they were in 1975; that’s a difference of opinion and we manage those in a democracy by voting.
In reply to your 19.25 comment.
How do you propose to secure economic cooperation to bring “the economic benefits of being in the EU” without regular meetings of representatives to make and when necessary change the rules and without a structure for ensuring that the rules are observed, in other words without political integration?
How about an agreed mutual recognition of standards, and the usual method of making sure rules are observed, ie, an independent arbitration forum?
If you have those things there is no need for political integration.
In reply to your 1.41 comment
I think it is very clear that the majority of the 52% who voted for Brexit want national political control of economic activity by elected representatives of the British people, who will ensure that the economy works in the interests of ordinary British people.
“Agreed mutual recognition of standards, and …an independent arbitration forum” is actually the opposite of this. It means the abandonment of political control of economic activity and its transfer into the invisible hand of the market, which really means the hidden hand of big business and the super rich. Who would ensure that the “independent arbitration forum” really is independent? Would it really be so very different from the existing European court? In the end such things are inevitably political.
I think this solution would be an even bigger betrayal of the will of the people than for the government to simply ignore the referendum result and keep Britain in the EU.
Who would ensure that the “independent arbitration forum” really is independent? Would it really be so very different from the existing European court?
On trade matters, no; but the point is it would refrain from sticking its nose into social policy, as the activist ECJ tends to.
There already exists such a body, the EFTA court. So it’s not like it would have to be invented form scratch; we could just leave the EU and on the same day re-join EFTA. Job done. We get to remain part of a free trade area with the rest of the European countries, including countries not in the EU, with the economic benefit that brings, but we don’t have political integration that leads to foreign-elected Parliaments like the EP making directives about social policy, employment policy, etc etc.
So… you don’t think the Swiss or the Canadians are untrustworthy, then? So there’s no necessary reason that not being in the EU, not belonging to a community of Europeans, means being untrustworthy? So the idea that ‘s rejection of the idea of belonging to a community of Europeans is a declaration to the rest of Europe that Britain cannot be trusted’ is simply false?
In reply to your 11.01 comment.
The EFTA countries are members of the EU single market. They follow most of the rules made by Brussels without having a say in making them. This means that they are vassal states in relation to the EU. It is a pity they do not become full members. They would be very welcome, but they refuse, apparently because ordinary people feel it would conflict with their identities. They are clinging to the shadow of sovereignty while its substance flies out of the window.
The EU is not going to allow Britain to have access to its economy, if Britain is going to exploit the situation by adopting laxer standards in the areas of health, safety, the environment and employment conditions. It really is a matter of trust.
The EFTA countries are members of the EU single market
Yes, exactly. That’s what we want: to be members of the single market but not of the political union.
They follow most of the rules made by Brussels without having a say in making them
Only — as I understand it — for goods which are exported to the other single market countries. They are free to have looser domestic standards for companies which don’t export, if they wish.
The EU is not going to allow Britain to have access to its economy, if Britain is going to exploit the situation by adopting laxer standards in the areas of health, safety, the environment and employment conditions
So basically the EU is about protectionism? Okay, well, glad we got that cleared up. Good thing we’re leaving then.
I just wish each political faction would decide which is their favourite shitfest and campaign for it. Stop pretending there is a deal that makes everyone happy (or even possible)..