Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Single Market includes the free movement of people

As people scurry about trying to figure out just what Brexit might mean in reality, much of the focus has centred on the Single Market and the free movement of people. Most Remainers and probably a majority of Leavers seem to want the UK to stay in the Single Market. This makes a great deal of sense, as the EU will remain our largest trading partner. However the Single Market has never been just a free trade area, contrary to the myths propagated by eurosceptics. From its beginning in the 1950s, the Single Market (formerly known as the Common Market) has had at its heart the commitment to the Four Freedoms – the free movement of goods, services, money and people. This is what every country signed up to when they joined the EU. Even those countries, such as Norway, which are not in the EU, but are in the Single Market have to sign up for all of the four pillars, including the free movement of people.

Yet this did not stop many in the Leave campaign from claiming that with Brexit the UK could stay in the Single Market, yet somehow opt out of the free movement of people. Now, post referendum we have almost a bandwagon of people on the left joining in. The latest to do so includes Stephen Kinnock and Seema Malhotra from the Labour party. In an article for the New Statesmen they argue that somehow the UK can impose controls on immigration for EU states, yet remain in the Single Market.

It is rather disappointing that so many people from the left are so quick and willing to advocate limiting the free movement of people from the rest of the EU. So much for the great internationalist traditions of Labour.  It seems Labour will stoop as low as it can to appease voters in its former heartlands.  Nothing of benefit tends to come from appeasement. The undoubted hardships for many across the UK do not come from immigrants, but from the failures of successive UK governments, including Labour governments.  But this not something most Labour party members are willing to discuss. Much easier to just blame immigrants and the EU.

However at this moment the key question is whether restrictions on the free movement of people is even remotely possible. I would suggest it is not. This for the simple reason that the Single Market is a package and the moment you start to demand exceptions the whole thing will very quickly collapse.

The UK wants to keep three of the four pillars of the Single Market – the free movement of goods, services and money – but to establish restrictions on the other pillar, the free movement of people. Which is fine and dandy for the UK and any other member state that has similar concerns. But what about the other member states?

Let us take the free movement of services. For most commentators this seems to equate to protecting the financial sector and the City of London in particular. As Stephen Kinnock and Seem Malhotra put it: The UK should protect its financial services industry, including passporting rights, vital to our national prosperity. Leave aside for the moment just why the Labour party should have suddenly become the saviours and protectors of financial services. Instead ask, why would all the other 27 member states agree to this? If exceptions are to be made to the four  pillars, why not to the free movement of services? What if Germany and France for example were to demand restrictions on passporting rights? Or what if some member states wanted the right to impose restrictions on the free movement of goods or money?

I other words once you start demanding concessions on one pillar of the Single Market, you are effectively calling for the end of the Single Market. If the UK can demand and get concessions on what it wants, there will no argument for denying this right to all the other member states. If the Single Market is beneficial to the UK, which I believe it is, then you accept all its terms and conditions. You cannot expect to pick and choose and not expect others to do the same. As Angela Merkel has made clear the UK will not get to cherry pick the bits of the Single Market it likes.

The UK once again seems to be reduced to pleading for special treatment. At the same time ignoring the concerns of the other 27 member states. We should be given everything we want and they rest should just sign on the dotted line. This line of thinking seems to ignore that the EU has repeatedly made concessions to the UK. The opt outs on Schengen and the euro for example. David Cameron also managed to get some, admittedly minor, concessions for the recent referendum. All to no avail, a majority in England and Wales still voted to leave. So what incentive do the other 27 member state for offering further concessions? Appeasement does not seem to work. It is time to get real about this. Talk of ending free movement of people yet staying in the Single Market is just that – all talk and no substance.

 

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No justification for an early election

All Hail Theresa May, our soon to be new Prime Minister. Last one standing gets the job, no election needed. This is a shame for the members of the Conservative party. An election would also have added much needed mirth for the rest of us throughout the summer as May and Leadsom battled it out between them. However this is a purely internal Tory party matter. They have the right to elect their leader any way they like.

Of course there is the small matter that the leader of the Conservative party is also right now the Prime Minister of the UK. As such there have been some loud calls for an early general election, mostly from the usual suspects, i.e. the opposition parties. However there does not to my mind exist any justifiable reasons for another general election. Not on constitutional grounds, nor on precedent, nor on political grounds.

As regards the constitution, or what passes for one in our non constitutional democracy, we do not directly elect a PM. Only the voters in his or her constituency can actually for for him or her. In a parliamentary democracy we vote for parties and can only do so in our own constituency. 99.9% of voters never, ever, get the chance to directly vote for a Prime Minister. At the last election, if you wanted David Cameron as PM, you had to vote conservative, while if you wanted to vote conservative, you had to do so knowing that David Cameron would almost certainly be the PM. Choice there was none. The same applied to potential Labour party voters. Those who voted for other parties knew that none of their candidates was likely to become PM. So, it seems to me that Theresa May has as much democratic credentials as all other PMs.

Precedent, which is an important part of our non constitutional democracy, also confirms that Theresa May does not require an early election. None of the changes in PM between elections has resulted in an immediate election. At least not in the last 100 years or so. Gordon Brown, John Major, Jim Callaghan et al succeeded to the post of PM without an immediate election. The same has happened in Scotland, Northern Ireland and I am sure, in Wales. There have been three changes in First Minister in Scotland in less than 20 years and none of them felt obliged, or were seriously pressured into calling an early election. So, again, precedent favours Theresa May.

As regards the politics, this too does not warrant another election. What political purpose would an early election have?  The government has not lost a vote of confidence and still has a working majority at Westminster. The Brexit vote is hardly a reason for another election. Though parliament is notionally sovereign and the referendum was technically advisory and not binding, it would be difficult for parliament to just override the result.  Whilst anything is possible, it does not seem to me to be terribly wise for politicians to seek to ignore the result. As Theresa May says, Brexit means Brexit.

This however is where it all gets very interesting politically. Despite Theresa May’s repetitions, nobody, including May herself, knows just what Brexit means. The fine details of Brexiting will provide much scope for argument, disagreements, anger, bitterness, insults and just possibly, some serious negotiations. Once these negotiations or non negotiations get properly started anything become possible. Including an early election. If the government cannot get its preferred position through parliament then it would have no option but to lose a vote of confidence and call for another election. The Tories got us into this mess. It is up to them to get us out of it. Or fail in the process. We may get another election before 2020, but not immediately. Let’s give Theresa May and her merry band as much rope as they need to hang themselves.

 

 

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Switzerland and Brexit

All eyes have rightly focussed on the recent Brexit vote and what it will mean in practice, in particular for the UK’s continued membership of the Single Market.  The key to this is most likely to be the free movement of people. Since its inception in the 1950s, the free movement of people has been one of the cornerstones of the Single Market, and its predecessor, the Common Market.

What is important to note is that a country does not have to be a member of the EU to be in the Single Market. You just have to sign up to the four key conditions: the free movement of goods, services, capital and people. You also have to pay a fee. This is the case with both Iceland and Norway, who are full members of the Single Market.

Switzerland is slightly different, in that it is not a full member of the Single Market, but has full access to specific sectors, but not the financial sector for example. Switzerland’s relationship with the EU is covered by a series of Bilateral Agreements and these include the free movement of people. However in February 2014, the Swiss voted in a referendum, by 50.3% to impose quotas on migration from the EU. The referendum gave the Swiss government three years to meet this requirement. That is until February 9th, 2017. For this to happen a new agreement with the EU needs to be reached very soon, for Switzerland to have the time to pass the necessary legal changes in time to meet this February 2017 deadline.

This is why what happens with Switzerland is potentially crucial to the UK’s hopes of remaining in the Single Market without the free movement of people. The omens are not good.  After two and a half years of negotiations no meeting of minds, let alone a new agreement had been reached. The most that might have been agreed with Switzerland would have been something similar to the emergency brake on immigration, that David Cameron managed to negotiate with the EU. However after the Brexit vote that is no longer on offer. And having been rejected by the UK, it is very unlikely that the EU would be interested in offering a similar deal to Switzerland.

Switzerland is already suffering the consequences of the 2014 vote, as it is no longer part of the Erasmus programme, and the EU has stalled on any further bilateral agreements. No new deal is in the pipeline and the reality is that without a new deal, all the Bilateral Agreements will come to a shuddering end in February 2017. This is due to the inclusion of a so called guillotine clause. If any part of the agreements is abrogated, the whole thing ends.

Switzerland is beginning to seriously run out of time. The Brexit vote ended the emergency break option. This leaves Switzerland between a rock and a hard place. Either it tries to hold another referendum, perhaps on keeping the Bilateral Agreements, including the free movement of people, or it prepares for life outwith the Single Market.

The Swiss experience does not offer much hope for those Leavers who assumed that the UK could get its cake and eat it. If there is to be a deal on ending or limiting the free movement of people it will now have to be offered to both Switzerland and the UK. As the previous offer – an emergency brake – has been rejected by the UK, it is not clear that there will be much stomach in the other 27 member states for any further concessions. Any limit to this foundational principle effectively ends the EU. As any offer would have to applicable to the other 27 member states.

The blindness of the Leave campaign as to what was happening in Switzerland is yet another example of how irresponsible the whole campaign was. Unfortunately it is the rest of us who will have to suffer the consequences. Unless you live in Scotland, where independence offers a way out of this mess.

 

 

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Filed under Europe, European Union, Politics, UK