The price of Brexit is being revealed bit by bit. Government is in negotiations with the City to ensure they don’t lose the benefit of ‘passporting’ that gives the financial sector access to the EU single market. An agreement of some kind has just been concluded with Nissan, and maybe the whole automobile industry, for some form of compensation sufficient to persuade the company to make additional investment in Sunderland. You might think that, in a democracy, we would know more about the negotiations with finance, and the substance of the understanding with Nissan. Not a bit of it! But one thing we can be certain of, and that is ‘who pays’. The sucker-tax-payer will pick up the bill, paying for financial access and trade losses for manufacturing. Is this what people voted for?
What will people get from the vote to leave? There is something new every day. How many voters had heard of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), or the European Economic Area (EEA) and understood the difference between them, or the difference between the single market and the customs union? Vince Cable apparently thinks the guarantees to Nissan means membership of the ‘customs union’ and this scuppers plans to turn the UK into a world-wide free-trader. But how would you know? No more telling comment could be made on the illusion that voting leave would put the people in control.
How should ‘the people’ react? Don’t for heaven’s sake fall for the short-term blackmail of buying access to the single market for finance, or the customs union for cars with public money. These will be extraordinarily expensive jobs!
But what to do? Tony Blair is arguing that the issue of Europe is not settled. The public mood can change when they see what is on offer. This is right but it is too much of an ‘I told you so’ argument, and threatens a re-run of the referendum that might offend enough people to see the leave verdict confirmed. Instead the opposition should concentrate on defeating the government on any proposal which falls short of delivering what they promised, or relies on raiding the public purse to pay for their mistakes.
Labour should be exceptionally careful here. They are making the case for remaining in the single market and this is a strong one, but being in the single market and not in the EU isn’t. At some point the question of renewed EU membership would be posed once more. Labour must make it crystal clear that the logic of being in the single market is to be in the EU. Then they can set out the changes they want to see, consistent with essential EU conditions like free movement, to talk about re-entry.