There’s no denying that the Tories have led us close to disaster with Brexit. They don’t seem to care that businesses are going to the wall, and thousands more are facing uncertain futures, as they continue to argue about the best way to cut our trading and security ties with our closest partners. Thankfully the public are not unaware – even 80% of Leave voters think that the government has handled negotiations badly.
Parliament now has to come up with a way out of this mess. As Theresa May’s deal looks certain to fall again in coming days, and no deal has been ruled out, there are now only two possible Brexit outcomes – soft Brexit and staying in the EU. There is a clear logic to supporters of a soft Brexit: it would, in their eyes, ‘respect the referendum result’, though mitigate some of the adverse economic impacts of leaving the EU.
Norway Plus, or Common Market 2.0, is a plan to keep the UK in the economic structures of the EU but remove us from its politics. We would no longer be represented in the European Council or the European Parliament, and we would lose membership of collaboration mechanisms including the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Foreign and Security Policy. We would be subject to all the laws – but have no say over drafting them.
The plan’s supporters argue that this is a price well worth paying, but they fail to understand the implications. There are major problems with the Common Market 2.0 proposals, not least because its proponents overstate the benefits and downplay the costs.
If parliament is to choose a sensible way forward it should be done on the facts – and the Common Market 2.0 group has failed to provide them. Their blueprint is full of inaccuracies. A new report from Labour for a Public Vote makes clear the wide gap between their claims and reality:
- They claim that ‘Common Market 2.0 would safeguard jobs’ – but it would lead to half the job losses of no deal.
- They claim that ‘it would protect the economic interests of the people we represent’ – but government impact reports state that it would lead to a self-inflicted recession.
- They claim that their plan ‘would guarantee workers’ rights’ – but it would remove our say over those rights, and the loss of Labour MEPs would weaken the parliament’s ability to pass progressive social legislation.
- They claim that ‘it would provide controls over freedom of movement’ – but these controls are designed for natural disasters or war, not normal circumstances, and have never been used.
- They claim that ‘we would take back control of EU budget contributions’ – when we would lose control, as the budget would be set by the EU27.
- They claim that ‘we would be out of the jurisdiction of the ECJ’ – but the EFTA court, which we would be subject to, always defers to the ECJ on EU law.
- They claim that ‘we would be able to resist pressure to implement new rules that we don’t like’ – when this would be illegal.
- They claim that ‘our budget contributions would be significantly lower’ – but Norway pays almost as much per head as we do now.
- They claim that ‘the EEA members want us to join’ – when the opposite is true.
It’s worth noting that their plan is very unpopular among the public – less than 10% support it. And an often overlooked fact is that MPs would have to vote through May’s deal, then trust the Tories not to ditch the Norway-style future relationship plan once we enter the transition period.
In 2016, people voted to ‘take back control’ – but Common Market 2.0 would mean giving up more control over the running of our economy than any nation in history. We would be teenagers in a house of grown-ups, committed to obeying the rules and doing our chores, with no say over the running of the household, how money was spent or who else could move in.
Any final Brexit outcome must have majority support in the country, which Norway Plus does not. Leave voters would feel betrayed, while Remainers would never be satisfied with observer status. The battle between Leavers and Remainers would continue, and the right-wing press would run daily stories on new EU regulations that we would have to adopt after having had no say in their drafting.
The nail in the coffin for Common Market 2.0 is that it is not left-wing and would bind the hands of a future Labour government. Common Market 2.0 is about giving control away – and with it, any hope of transforming the UK economy under a radical, socialist Labour government.
Parliament has to decide on a way forward, but Common Market 2.0 is not it. This centrist, triangulating option fails to satisfy Labour conference policy, and would leave us poorer with less control. It does not have public support – and should not be supported by MPs.
Although the country narrowly voted for Brexit three years ago, they gave no clarity on the kind of deal they wanted. The most viable way forward now is to put May’s deal – the only deal legally agreed with the EU – to the people in a referendum. Just as a trade union would negotiate new pay or conditions before returning to their members, so MPs should put the Brexit deal back to the public.