It is fair to say that the great Brexit experiment is hitting a rocky patch. Yesterday, the prime minister gave an interview in which she was asked whether if the referendum was run tomorrow she would vote Remain or Leave. She declined to answer. For the “Brexit means Brexit” person to be wavering on this right now is not a good look for the Brexit friendly.
Some have taken this as a sign that perhaps Brexit won’t happen at all, but I don’t think that’s the case, at least, not yet. But some of the talk from Brexiteers about what a post-Brexit Britain might look like are very telling. One that has popped up this week is the idea that if we crash out of the EU with no deal, we join NAFTA. What so many Brexiteers fail to understand is how much of the weakness of their game they are giving away by recommending this course of action.
A quick summary of how the EU and NAFTA are different: NAFTA does not involve freedom of movement of people in any way shape or form, which is probably the main reason Brexiteers like it so much. But alongside that are many more differences that should make them feel distinctly uncomfortable. A critique of the EU that is sometimes given in Britain is that it is dominated by Germany to an unhealthy degree. Yet in practice it is hard to see how this is the case, particularly when compared to NAFTA and how it is dominated by America. If anything, the EU is egalitarian to a fault, a good example being the idea that Greece was ready and able to join the single currency. The single market is a rule bound free trade agreement which brokers no exceptions, and applies equally to all member states as much as it can do in practical terms.
NAFTA on the other hand can be summarised thus: The United States of America is the largest, most lucrative market that has ever existed. Its nearest neighbours would like as much access to it as possible. Fine, but they play by America’s rules in order to do so, and America can change those rules anytime it likes because, hey, like or leave it, right guys? Canada, you want to complain that the 30% tariff we’re slapping on lumber out of the clear blue sky violates the NAFTA treaty? Just try it, you puny Canuck weaklings! All you can do is stomp out of NAFTA, which we and you both know you won’t do as it would hurt your economy given the crappy access to the US market you have now is better than no access to said market whatsoever.
I struggle to think of anything less “take back control” than joining NAFTA, I really do. I thought leaving the EU was supposed to be all about Britain sailing out on its own, striking whatever trade deals it wants on whatever terms it seems fit. I thought Brexit was about the British being masters of their own destinies. How does entering a “free trade” zone that is all about whatever America thinks is important at any given moment equate to that idea?
I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. The UK joining NAFTA is a really stupid idea, one that exposes the “take back control” for what it is: hot air.
Where to start. No, NAFTA isn’t perfect and some particular issues have put sand in the gears over the years. Softwood lumber being an obvious example. Too, it is a simple fact that the US is the overweening member of NAFTA and under this administration is more bumptious than usual. Apart from that though I can’t see what your point is. NAFTA is not a customs union it is a free(managed really) trade agreement. The agreement has little or no impact on issues not directly related to trilateral trade issues. This is in stark contrast to the EU which claims jurisdiction over many areas which NAFTA does not. So your point carries no weight at all here. Finally, the EU today isn’t what the EU will be in 20 years time. To suggest so is disingenuous in the extreme. Last point, unless and until the EU undoes it’s reckless and ill-fated single currency project the Union itself will stumble from one crisis to another. I voted in favour of the FTA in the middle 80s and can assure you it has nothing in common with the EU.
Isn’t one important distinction also though that the EU is an exclusive free-trade arrangement (if you’re in it you’re not allowed to have other, separate agreements with other countries not in it; you have to apply the common external tariff) whereas with NAFTA we would be free to be in it and also have other agreements with other countries’ to our hearts’ content?
That’s exactly right.