Common Market 2.0
As anyone who has spoken to me about politics, or read
anything I’ve written on the topic in the last few years will know I am far,
far from Jeremy Cobyn’s biggest fan. Furthermore I have repeatedly been pretty disappointed
with his, and Labour’s, positioning on Brexit both pre and post the vote in
But I have to say that I think the outrage from remainers over his meeting with
Nick Boles et al and the “Common Market 2.0” gang (that is EEA/EFTA + Custom’s
Union BTW) is both misplaced and misconceived and tactically the wrong thing
for Remainers to do.
Now I don’t, for a second, believe that Corbyn is in any
way working to try and stop Brexit. He wants it and everyone knows it. But in
terms of getting a good, or at least a “not as bad” outcome from Brexit
requires Remainers to, I think, be a little flexible.
Like most other die hard Remaoners I want Brexit stopped or cancelled; and
whilst I have distaste for referendums I kind of feel that what is enacted by
referendum can only be undone by referendum. Therefore my first choice, what I’m
“hoping for” is a People’s vote, May’s Deal vs Remain (hoping for probably a
misnomer, I dread it, just dread it less than any other option).
But the first rule of political realism is deal with the world as it is, not as
you wish it were. I frequently criticise the Unicorn hunting of the batshit
Brexiteers; and Unicorn hunting from those of us who hope to undo Brexit is
just as bad.
Here is the truth, barring a remarkable turnaround from the Government front
bench, and the Labour back benches there is very little likelihood of a People’s
vote getting through parliament. It won’t matter how Corbyn whips. It isn’t
impossible, and I’m not imploring anyone to give up on this idea. But the cold,
hard, facts are the Parliamentary arithmetic mean that delivering this is just
not within Corbyn’s gift, even if it was something he wanted to deliver (it clearly
In politics we all too often let impossible pursuit of the perfect mean that we
miss out on the merely good, or even just better (case in study the ERG, and I
suspect the Labour left). I know that my optimal outcome (Brexit stopped) is
unlikely. And I therefore think it is necessary to look at other solutions,
that may well be sub optimal.
For me the options are on a continuum of suitability and how damaging they will
be to the country. Stopping Brexit is the best option. If that cannot happen
then a close relationship along the lines of the Common Market 2.0 would be the
next best. Then May’s deal. Lastly “No Deal” is the most horrendously damaging
option that must be stopped and resisted at all costs.
The Common Market 2.0 (hereafter CM2) indeed does have some particular
advantages, that in some ways (but not overall) make it more appealing that
trying to stop Brexit.
Firstly (and this is a important) it probably, probably,
has the votes to actually be carried by parliament and therefore to resolve the
issue. If May’s deal get’s another thumping defeat next week (and all the
indications are that the Government is trying their very best to make that
happen) and No Deal is ruled out; then trying to find a solution that can
actually pass parliament will become very important.
Secondly the mandate from 2016. I’m deeply uncomfortable
with all this “will of the people” stuff; I think it is pretty obvious at least
some people have changed their minds, circumstances have changed, the
electorate has changed, and what is being offered now isn’t what was promised
in 2016 (not to mention that the honesty and integrity of the referendum is now
under serious question). But the truth is we had a vote; and in many ways by
having a solution that respects that, that discharges that mandate, then we
have a platform for actually moving forward and healing.
Whatever any leavers try to claim, CM2 would absolutely
discharge the mandate. It might not be exactly what some of the people who
voted leave thought they were voting for (though contemporaneous data seems to
suggest most leave voters thought we’d stay in single market at the time of the
referendum) but the question on the ballot paper was about us leaving the EU.
In CM2 we would unquestionably have left the EU and therefore the mandate,
however dodgy it is, would be discharged.
So those are the two ways in which CM2 would in some
respects have advantages over cancelling Brexit (at this stage). Of course
there are other benefits too CM2 would very neatly solve all of the very
difficult issues we have around Northern Ireland and the Good Friday agreement
(indeed it is the only solution that can do this AND maintain the territorial
integrity of the UK).
The backstop, and all it’s huffing and puffing is
basically a way of kicking into the long grass that the UK has to choose
between it’s obligations under the Good Friday Agreement, or it’s territorial integrity,
or it’s desire to leave the Single Market and Customs Union. We can only really
have any two out of three, and this uncomfortable reality is one which May is
reluctant to actually confront at this stage. Plumping for CM2 resolves that
little conundrum for us.
It would have the advantage of being exactly what
business wants if we are to leave and gives us the least bad exit in terms of
damaging the economy (important if we want an incoming Labour government to be
able to actually transform lives rather than just mitigating decline).
This one, this one is a biggie, it actually would “Just
make it stop” (which I suspect that 90% of the British public desperately want).
CM2 would require some negotiation and implementation. But as it would be using
largely “off the shelf” solutions, and would likely command cross party support
it would be able to be done *relatively* straightforwardly.
In contrast May’s deal, Labours fantasy Unicorn version
or No Deal is going to be the work of a generation to implement. Any of them
will consume our politics, economy, and legal system for the best part of a
decade. Combined with the much worse adverse effect on the economy that any of
these would have will be devastating for the British state, and ordinary
working people in particular. It also saves us from predatory action from Trump’s
America on trade and means we can duck that Chlorine Chicken.
I don’t think that CM2 is perfect, nor even optimal. It is basically pointless,
we leave, sort of, damage our economy but don’t get any of the imaginary
benefits that Brexit was supposed to bring (but never would have). But it discharges
the mandate, does so in a not particularly damaging way, let’s us move on and
do so quickish. It also offers a better platform for the UK to change it’s mind
down the line.
I do not think we are going to get a People’s vote, and
if we do it would be very difficult to win. So Common Market 2.0 might be the
least bad option. And it might be something that could actually be delivered. Remainers
ought to at least consider and not dismiss it.