Common Market 2.0 looks just as bad after latest mutation

by Luke Lythgoe | 01.04.2019

Common Market 2.0 has mutated yet again ahead of a new round of indicative votes on Brexit options tonight. The scheme to keep the UK in the EU’s single market and something like a customs union has been changed with the aim of getting the support of Labour, the SNP and the DUP. It has succeeded with the first two.

But this idea, which is being promoted by a cross-party group of MPs led by the Conservative Nick Boles, is still highly problematic. It isn’t fully specified and parts of it may not be deliverable (see Motion D).

What’s more, if it ever came to pass, it would turn us into rule-takers on a massive scale – following trade deals and regulations without a vote on them. That would be a massive blow to our pride. Such a scheme would therefore be unlikely to stick, meaning we would continue to wrestle with the outcome of Brexit for years to come.

The new version of Common Market 2.0 adds a promise of “alignment” with the EU’s Customs Code and “agreement” on commercial policy. That turns the proposal into something close to a customs union – although it still uses the woolly language of customs “arrangement”.

This has been done to appeal to Labour. However, Common Market 2.0 still leaves open the possibility that the customs arrangement might be temporary – while Labour’s policy is that it should be permanent.

Boles’ new version also nods in Labour’s direction by calling for the UK to have a “say” on future EU trade deals. This is what Jeremy Corbyn wants. But is it deliverable? That rather depends on what one means by a “say”. Of course, the EU might let the UK lobby it during trade talks with other countries, but it would never give it a vote or the power to stop EU deals it didn’t like.

Meanwhile, a clause suggesting we might not need to follow the single market’s free movement rules has been axed from Boles’ new version. This seems to have been done to woo the SNP, which is rightly concerned that ending free movement would damage Scotland.

Finally, there are two modifications to appeal to the DUP. One is a new clause on trade in agricultural products. This would see the UK and EU “agree relevant protocols” to keep trade frictionless. That’s important if the Irish border is to be kept open. The language on trying to get rid of the controversial “backstop” arrangement has also been toughened up.

But there are still big questions about the scheme. Nothing, for example, is said about money – whereas, in practice, we could end up paying more than our current membership fee to enjoy the single market and customs union since, after leaving the EU, we wouldn’t benefit from our £4 billion a year “rebate” any longer.

Nor is anything said about how disputes would be resolved in the customs “arrangement”. In practice, we are likely to have to follow the EU’s jurisdiction in one way or another.

It’s also unclear whether the other EEA countries such as Norway and Iceland would want us to join their club. Norwegian politicians especially are wary. The opposition Labour party is outright opposed, worried it will make Norway’s relationships more unstable.

Finally, it is unclear how Common Market 2.0 would ever be delivered given that the prime minister, most of the Cabinet and the vast majority of Tory MPs are against it. Before it was signed and sealed, there could be a new hard Brexit Tory leader who would tear it up.

If Common Market 2.0 moves onto the next stage in today’s votes, it will need to be specified in more detail. Its backers will also have to show that both the EU and the EEA are prepared to approve it.

If, after all that, it still looks a runner, it will need to be put to the people. After all, turning us into a rule-taker bears no resemblance to the “take back control” Brexit promised in 2016.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

8 Responses to “Common Market 2.0 looks just as bad after latest mutation”

  • I agree entirely that revoking the Article 50 notice would be by far the best course; however, if that is not feasible for (stupid) political reasons, then “Common Market 2.0” may be the best option, faute de mieux. At least it’s not a total disaster, though it means giving up a lot of control. I do not see why it would have to be submitted to another referendum. Enough of referenda! Let’s get back to the British constitution, acknowledging the sovereign control of the Crown in Parliament.

    I do find it slightly encouraging that there is a cross-party group at work. What is needed now and for the protracted period of negotiation of a complete new relationship with the EU (assuming no revocation of Art. 50) is a cross-party government of national salvation dedicated to the interests of the country (and, for that matter, of Europe broadly writ), and not to the interests of the two dysfunctional parties.

  • Personally, I think they are messing about. It is all mealy mouthed and nothing like as good as we have at the moment. Why adopt a ‘compromise’ that takes us backwards? It stores up future trouble because it is not going to satisfy the ERG. Also, it still takes away my rights and privileges as citizen of the EU. Revoke article 50.

  • In a revolution, there is a flight to extremism on both sides. That’s why rational steps such as revoking Article 50 are out. The result of hardline positions, including those of InFacts, the refusal to compromise and accept the deal on offer, has been to hand the country lock, stock and barrel over to the G27. You have put your heads on the guillotine, dear Brits; please wait for the blade to fall.

  • Robert, I do not wish to leave the EU. What is extreme about that ?
    The referendum was a sham and the word ‘democracy ‘ should not be associated with it. My identity has been attacked, so why should I surrender it? I am not a revolutionary. That title belongs to people such as Suella Braverman, Rees-Mogg, Baker, Johnson etc. I am merely defending my rights. Why should these people be allowed to take away my EU citizenship?

  • I’m an ex-pat and have followed this whole sorry mess from the beginning. I’m now really fed up with it – the Chinese water torture would be a doddle by comparison.
    Choices, what choices ?
    1) Revoke Article 50 (which was written in the belief that no country would be stupid enough to leave (!!)) – this would be political suicide for any government and for many MPs.
    2) Referendum – are you sure the result would be to stay ? Be careful what you wish for.
    3) Stay in the customs union and single market (if so, why leave ?)
    4) Immediate general election – could be out of the frying pan, into the fire.
    And :
    Find David Cameron and explain to him in short words, which even he could understand, what a F****g shambolic, useless, cowardly PM he was. It’s noticeable that after saying he has no regrets, he’s been remarkably quiet.

  • MPs are getting to the stage where they must start voting strategically. i.e. its no good holding out for their one ideal option, and so ensuring that all options fail.
    Whilst a People’s vote would be ideal, that may not be achievable in this Parliament. On the other hand, Single Market (EEA) and Customs Union may be achievable.

    I would have no real problem with Single Market (EEA) as it would safeguard freedom of movement and therefore the rights of existing EU nationals & expats, but also rights for future generations. I believe a large swathe of industry, including services, as well as agriculture could get behind those options. We would still have to pay into the Budget, but at a much reduced level. It would also solve the Irish border issue at a stroke.
    To those who say it would not be leaving the EU, then that would make interesting news for the peoples of Norway and Switzerland. If life is so bad for EEA members, as opponents claim, then has the prosperity and welfare of the Norwegians or Swiss particularly suffered? Moreover, Britain would be a big beast inside the EEA, and I fancy we would have significantly more clout than either of those countries.

  • The abstract problem that underlies the difficulties is that the compromise option isn’t a compromise in the usual sense of giving both sides part of what they want. Relative to what we have now, the extreme choices are no pain with no gain (staying in the EU), and lots of pain with some gain (hard Brexit or no deal — of course, it’s highly debatable whether that gain really exists and even more debatable whether it is worth the pain). The middle option isn’t a smaller amount of pain with a smaller amount of gain, but rather a smaller amount of pain with no gain at all.

    One could still argue that since we are where we are politically, and since a soft Brexit is hugely better than no deal, it might be best to go for something like Common Market 2.0, in the hope that by disentangling ourselves as little as possible from EU institutions, we will make it as easy as possible to rejoin later. Or we can continue to play this huge game of chicken.

  • The hole that we have got ourselves into just allows the EU to dictate exactly what they want once parliament has achieved a consensus on one plan. Whatever we put to them they will squeeze us until the pips squeak because we have thrown away all of our negotiating leverage, and they know we will accept almost any deal that appears to be Brexit – it will be a worse case BRINO! I am utterly confident that Brexiteers will never accept it, so there will have to be a general election sooner rather than later because a 2nd vote will be a dogs dinner that will solve nothing and create even more anger and hostility.

    At this moment I only see 2 real choices – leave with no deal or revoke article 50. The 1st option is my preferred choice as would settle the matter for the short to medium term. Option 2 to revoke article 50 would put all the remain MPs in the spotlight for a general election that would need to be held within months.