Many argue that the referendum of June 2016 was won by a Leave campaign that sought to appeal to the heart as opposed to the mind. However, now for remainers to achieve their best post-Brexit outcome it is more important than ever to show that winning minds is not only possible but desirable in modern political campaigning. Most importantly, this will involve arguing effectively for the best possible access to the Single Market.
Theresa May confirmed in January last year that the UK will leave the EU’s Single Market. Her announcement was typical of a Government that has focused on the narrative of a “hard Brexit” rather than on a more nuanced debate over negotiations and options for the UK. She said “hard Brexit […] cannot mean membership of the Single Market”.
However, remainers must change this narrative and much harder for access to the Single Market. The most successful endgame would be a level of membership (important to distinguish between this and access) of the EU Single Market. This would most probably look something like the European Economic Area (sometimes referred to as the ‘Norway option’).
In terms of trade, this option is arguably better than a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Whilst a FTA might eliminate tariffs and keep trade flowing between the two blocs, such agreements deal almost exclusively in goods and often is not as concerned with services. This could be problematic for a UK economy so reliant on these sectors. The UK has large deficits in goods with the EU and so it is probable that a situation may occur in which the EU will have an upper hand in discussions on any post-Brexit trade agreement. Whilst EU businesses will want to keep selling their goods competitively to the UK market, they have trade with the rest of the EU bloc to fall back on. As well as the countries with which the EU already has agreements with e.g. South Korea and Canada. The UK on the other hand is only just beginning to negotiate these trade deals. These negotiations could well be long and complex, given the the necessity to plug the gap left by the current tensions, temporary or otherwise, between the UK and the EU.
Here is where the argument must be made. The highlighting of the economic consequences has to be foremost. A paper by the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that retaining Single Market membership in the form of the European Economic Area could be worth an extra 4% GDP growth. Similarly, the Independent stated “a huge 44% of Britain’s exports go to the EU – £220bn out of £510bn – according to the Office for National Statistics. If the UK did not negotiate a favourable trade deal with the EU, those exports would be subject to import tariffs as well as extra administrative costs”.
In making the case for the best possible access to the Single Market, the route towards this must be a relentless focus on an economic message: that the hardest Brexit is financially irresponsible. Bill Clinton once said that it was ‘the economy stupid’ and political operatives have long framed issues around its impact on the Pound or Dollar in your pocket. Remainers should be no different.
It will not be easy for remainers to reform around a push to stay in the Single Market but it may be the best chance they have to improve the future prospects of the UK. As the debate appears evermore emotive, playing to people’s minds rather than hearts will encourage a more informed British debate.
Ben Campbell (24) works in the charity sector in Birmingham. He is interested in European politics and most recently the impact Brexit will have on British industry. He is a contributor to Agora’s European program