Hard Brexit or Soft Brexit; What’s the Difference?

The media seem to be fixating on the question of a hard Brexit or soft Brexit. But how real is this apparent conflict?

The Conservative and Labour Parties accounted for around 83% of the popular vote at the last election and the polls suggest that public opinion remains at similar levels today. Both parties contain a majority of MPs that were on the side of “Remain” during the 2016 referendum; both parties accepted the result of the referendum; and both parties are now committed to leaving the EU in April 2019. So, one way or another, it seems likely to happen.

The essential difference between a hard and soft Brexit is whether we leave both the “Single Market” and the “Customs Union”. The hard Brexit outcome would mean leaving both; the soft Brexit outcome would mean remaining in both.

The single market requires the free movement from one EU member country to another of goods, people, services and capital (the four freedoms). It removes barriers to trade and harmonises or unifies national rules at EU level.

For the UK to remain in the single market, it would require either the EU to agree that the UK could dispense with the requirement for the free movement of people; or for the UK to agree to retain the free movement of people. Realistically, neither of these is going to happen. The free movement of people is one of the prime founding principles of the EU, which is bound by those principles. For the UK the free movement of people was one of the main reasons for the Brexit vote winning the referendum. So there is a complete impasse.

The customs union┬ástates that all trade in goods between EU countries must be free of customs duties and that member states must apply a common customs tariff for goods imported from outside the EU. For the UK to remain in the customs union would require either the EU to agree that the UK could negotiate it’s own trade agreements with countries outside the EU; or for the UK to accept that is couldn’t. Again, neither is going to happen. The EU has no incentive whatsoever to agree that the UK should be free to negotiate its own trade arrangements with countries outside the customs union. On the other hand, for the UK, the ability to negotiate its own trade agreements outside the customs union is essential, if it is to develop its international trade throughout the world. So, once again there is a complete impasse.

Whether we like it or not, the simple facts of life are that the choice we have is to remain in the EU, as we are now or leave the EU and this means leaving the single market and the customs union. Leaving the EU and remaining in the single market and customs union isn’t a realistic option. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t negotiate a non tariff trade agreement with the EU; and it doesn’t mean we’ll need to establish customs controls at borders because we already have them, as we’re not part of the Schengen Agreement. Although we will need to find a solution for the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Realistically, the argument over a hard or soft Brexit is meaningless. The real argument is between those who support Brexit and those who oppose it. We live in a democracy and those who oppose Brexit have every right to do so and every right to campaign for their views to prevail. However, by campaigning for a so called soft Brexit, they are campaigning for something that can’t happen and undermining the government’s position in the process. They should be honest and campaign for NO Brexit. We must remember that we are still in the EU; so no Brexit means no change and that seems much more realistic than campaigning for a change that can never happen.

 

 

By Europe Divided

I’m a Baby Boomer, born in 1948 and, in my nearly seventy years of life, as a British subject, I can’t remember a time when our nation was so divided. The issue of Europe and our membership of the EU has pitted young against old, cosmopolitan against rural and region against region. It’s fractured families, friendships and communities; and has created monumental splits within both of our two largest political parties.

Many people are critical of the Cameron government’s decision to hold a referendum in the first place, accusing it of pandering to it’s right wing and hard core Brexiteers. But this is too simplistic because it ignores the considerable anti EU views that have existed within the wider British population, since we joined, what was then, the Common Market in 1973; but particularly since the Maastricht treaty of 1992, which projected the EU towards ever closer political union.

The emergence of UKIP has also been extremely influential. Whilst it has failed to gain a significant parliamentary presence, it has gathered a groundswell of support as a single issue political party.

The problem for the government of the day was that this groundswell has been growing rapidly and, as we now know, it hasn’t been coming from just traditional Tory voters, it has as much, if not more, support from within the ranks of traditional Labour voters. You could argue that Cameron was the unlucky Prime Minister, who happened to be in office when it all came to a head. But in truth, if Cameron hadn’t called the referendum, when he did, it would only have delayed it; and a future government, of whatever political persuasion, would have had its hand forced, within a comparatively short time.

This anti EU feeling isn’t unique to the UK. Many other European countries have a growing level of discontent with the EU. The UK is merely the first to bring that discontent to a head.

The EU has worked extremely well for some people in most member countries but it has not worked at all well for others and this is at the route of the problem. The EU bureaucracy and individual country Governments have ignored those people, for whom the EU hasn’t worked. Throughout Europe and North America, we have seen the rise of an intellectual liberal elite that has permeated the upper echelons of politics, public services, financial services and business and commerce. Overwhelming, these are decent people working incredibly hard in very difficult and challenging roles. They do a huge amount of good work, from which we all benefit enormously. However, they have become too detached from the wider populous and imbued with a certain arrogance that says, “we know better than you what is best for you; therefore, we don’t need to listen to you”. As a result huge swathes of people feel ignored, disenfranchised and powerless to do anything to put matters right.

The rise of Donald Trump in The US and the success of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK have happened because they are talking to the people that the establishment has ignored. It’s interesting that Trump is from the far right and Corbyn the far left. There have been all sorts of complex and convoluted reasons put forward for their success; but actually it’s very simple and they both know it. They offer hope to those, who feel disenfranchised and have no hope.

Based on past experience, it seems unlikely that either the far right or the far left are capable of delivering the kind of society that most of us want. Most of us in the western democracies gravitate from centre right to centre left. In the UK that could be described as One Nation Tories to Social Democrats. But the detachment of the Liberal Elite is creating fertile conditions for more extreme politics.

Getting back to the EU issue, we’re not in a good place at the moment. The divisions between us are creating an almost impossible position for any Government to resolve. This is probably the most serious threat to our nation since the second world war and, unless we start to come together and unite, the UK will enter a period of very serious decline. In principle, the UK could almost certainly look forward to a great future either inside or outside the EU. We are an industrious and innovative nation that has been a world leader for centuries because of our ability to adapt. But if we keep fighting between ourselves, there is only one outcome possible, namely serious national decline.

Given where we are, it seems inevitable that we will leave the EU. But there needs to be compromise. No one will get everything they want but we’ll all get some of the things we want.

It’s time for the silent majority from One Nation Tories to Social Democrats to make its collective voice heard and to unite so that we can achieve an outcome that enables our country to thrive.

The treat this nation faces, is the greatest since the second world war. In those far off days, my parent’s generation put aside their differences and united. Their fortitude and determination won through and secured a future for those of us alive today. We owe it to them and we owe it to our children and grandchildren to do the same now.

The current government may not be everyone’s choice. It may have lost the confidence of many of our people through its botched general election. But it is the government and it faces a massive challenge. We must put aside our differences and support it rather than continually undermining everything it tries to do. When Brexit is complete and our country is secure, we can return to our tribal politics just as my parents’ generation did in 1945. If we don’t do that, our future will be bleak, whoever holds the key to number 10.