As the time before the EU referendum ticks away, the Remain and Leave camps are still fleshing out their positions, sometimes in quite revealing ways. At the weekend, Michael Gove said that if the UK voted to leave the EU, it would have neither the wish nor the need to remain in the EU’s Single Market. This is a deeply troubling idea.
This position on the Single Market had been alluded to before by the handful of economists who have expressed their support for Brexit. Now it is out in the open, so to speak, and Boris Johnson has been quick to concur. In this line of thinking, the UK would seek free trade access to the Single Market area but would not want to adhere to EU law, regulations and product standards, which are part and parcel of the arrangement. The most important of these laws for the Leave campaign are those that govern free movement—namely, immigration. However, this kind of an arrangement is nothing short of fantasy.
First, if there are exit negotiations—which would undoubtedly be drawn out and acrimonious—there is no reason to expect EU countries to give the UK any special favours. Many EU politicians have already said as much. Member states will be seriously put out by the signalling effects of Brexit on their own anti-EU parties, and the prospect of rewarding the UK in this context is as distant as the Milky Way.
Moreover, the notion that outside the EU’s Single Market, the UK would be able to negotiate numerous bilateral free trade agreements and forge a path towards economic greatness beggars belief. The Leave camp concede that a post-Brexit UK would be in a group that includes the Balkan nations, while missing the point that these countries crave EU membership. President Barack Obama has already stated that the UK would be “back of the queue” for a trade deal; Hillary Clinton has warned against Brexit too.