Michael Gove gambles as he rejects single market membership

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

NS

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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.