Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Michael Gove gambles as he rejects single market membership

The Leave campaign's move offers its opponents new economic ammunition. 

For months, EU supporters have been demanding clarity from the Leave campaign on what post-Brexit model it would seek. Would it seek to remain in the single market (like Norway) and risk the loss of sovereignty? (Existing members are required to accept the free movement of people, obey EU law and contribute to the European budget.) Or would it leave the single market and risk the loss of economic activity? The ambiguity has allowed Remain to accuse Leave of adopting Boris Johnon's policy on cake: "pro having it and pro eating it". 

Today, in a lengthy, cerebral and frequently humorous speech, Michael Gove ate his cake. He announced that the UK would not apply for membership of the single market but would instead seek a free trade agreement with the EU. While few dispute that this could be achieved (as Gove noted, the free trade area includes Bosnia, Serbia, Albania and the Ukraine), the In campaign will warn that it would come at a severe cost. 

Withdrawal from the single market, which the UK joined under Margaret Thatcher in 1986, would mean an end to the single market in financial services - one of the UK's greatest assets. When challenged on this point in the Q&A that followed, Gove insisted that the "ingenuity" of the City of London would allow it to continue to flourish. But Mark Carney and bank heads have warned of lost jobs, higher prices, fewer businesses and reduced investment. 

The Leave campaign is attempting to overshadow this spectre by vowing that the UK would regain control of its borders and laws. Its hope is that anxiety over immigration and sovereignty will trump financial fears. But the Remain campaign, which has relentlessly focused on the economic case against withdrawal, is confident that its strategy will prevail. As recent losers Alex Salmond, Nigel Farage and Ed Miliband can testify, few have ever triumphed without without securing victory on this front. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

0800 7318496