Show Hide image

Is Brexit really incompatible with the single market? The referendum campaigns revisited

Funnily enough, Brexiteers were much more vague in 2016. 

Jeremy Corbyn has told members of the parliamentary Labour party that the UK cannot stay in the single market after Brexit, the Guardian reports, causing frustration among pro-EU Labour MPs. 

“Labour Brexit fudge” has become so commonplace as a phrase that Tesco will soon be stocking it, but nevertheless the party’s tactical avoidance of Brexit will not last forever. 

In August 2017, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer just gave it a wipe. Labour, he confirmed, would seek to remain inside the single market during a time-limited transition period. 

Responding in a series of tweets, Labour donor John Mills described Starmer's position as “incompatible” with Labour's manifesto, adding that it “would betray 4m Labour-supporting Leave voters”.

Yet a former Vote Leave staffer, Oliver Norgrove, had a different perspective. “We argue for things which are utterly achievable in the EEA and make no mention at all of leaving the single market,” he wrote, while urging the public to check the official campaign's aims. 

The EU referendum question itself - “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” - offers no answers. So what did the campaigns and key campaigners have to say about remaining in the single market?

Vote Leave

The official Brexit campaign infamously claimed that voting to leave the EU would “save £350m a week”. It also promised control of Britain's borders, controls of immigration, the freedom to strike trade deals, and to “make our own laws”. 

It stated: “There is a free trade zone stretching all the way from Iceland to the Russian border. We will still be part of it after we Vote Leave.” Daniel Hannan, a Tory MEP and one of the faces of Vote Leave, declared: “Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market.” Boris Johnson, now foreign secretary, declared in the aftermath of the vote that Britain would retain access to the single market. 

Verdict: This is the “having your cake and eating it” campaign. It's clear Vote Leave wanted to prioritise trade, but at the same time it would take a master negotiator to deliver the promises on slashing EU regulation and controlling immigration, while staying in the single market, since multiple EU leaders have said the four freedoms - freedom of trade, services, capital and movement - are indivisible.  


Although today Leave.EU is one of the most vocal opponents of staying in the single market, both Nigel Farage and Arron Banks, influential members of the unofficial Brexit campaign, talked up the "Norway option" and the European Economic Area. However, in February 2016, Farage said explicitly that he did not wish the UK to be part of the single market. Leave.EU's campaign messaging stressed controlling borders and immigration, and Farage argued that immigration was suppressing wages.  

Verdict: This was the "don't mention the market" campaign. Leave.EU clearly prioritised controlling immigration over access to the single market, but in the run up to the vote, it played down the implications of its stance. Talk about the Norway model also blurred the picture.

Stronger In

The official Remain campaign made its case almost exclusively on the economic benefits of remaining in the EU, including the freedom to trade, and the consequence of lower prices.

Its website stated: "Being in the single market means we have the freedom to work, travel and study in the EU, creating even more job opportunities for you and your family. If we left Europe, UK businesses would have to pay new tariffs, increasing the cost of trading."

Verdict: This was the "stay in the single market" campaign, and anyone who came across Remain's arguments could have little doubt about that. According to Stronger In, the flipside of being in the EU was clearly leaving the single market.

Another Europe Is Possible

The unofficial, left-wing Remain campaign, backed by several trade unions, was lukewarm about the single market. Its opening statement declared that "for all its potential, the EU as it’s currently constituted is run in the interests of multinational corporations for whom it represents a lucrative market". However, it argued that by staying in the EU, left-wingers had a better chance of reforming the system, and that the breakdown of borders would allow progressives to work across Europe. 

Verdict: This was the "solidarity" campaign, with little defence of the single market. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

Show Hide image

Four key thinkers more deserving of a revival than “Trump’s philosopher” Ayn Rand

If thinkers have enduring value, it is because their ideas are timeless, not timely.

A recent story in theTimes carried the headline, “Trump’s philosopher is heading for your local pub”. The philosopher in question was Ayn Rand, whose works The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) have been a profound influence on the American right since they were published, and are apparently enjoying a resurgence.

The story went on: the previous week, “about 15 people packed into a room above the Plumbers Arms in Victoria, central London” to discuss Rand. You read that right: 15! Three more than a dozen! Their cups runneth over indeed. We later discovered that Britain’s first Ayn Rand Centre is being set up. Moreover, new groups dedicated to Rand have popped up in Reading and Milton Keynes.

Everything about this story was designed to make me angry. For one thing, Rand was above all a novelist, not a philosopher. For another, it’s generous to suggest that the star of America’s Celebrity Apprentice, who is also the current occupant of the White House, is deeply familiar with her overall body of work. He said he enjoyed The Fountainhead; that’s some way short of her being a favourite philosopher.

But the thing that really riles me is this fashion for stories about intellectual fashions. Last year, apparently, there was an upsurge of interest in, and sales of, George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. During the financial crisis, displaying knowledge of Hyman Minsky’s oeuvre became the columnist’s trope du jour – just as, in the recession that followed, flaunting one’s knowledge of John Maynard Keynes’s The General Theory was a mark of cool and learning.

If thinkers have enduring value, it is because their ideas are timeless, not timely. So here, apropos of nothing in particular, are four other key thinkers that are being unfairly neglected.

1. Polonius The true hero of Elsinore, who manages to distil in one speech more wisdom than the self-indulgent prince manages over five acts. Where Hamlet’s meandering vanities take him hither and thither to no great end, Polonius speaks the language of uncommon common sense to which this column aspires. And how prescient is he? His “neither a borrower nor a lender be” anticipated the post-monetary policy era four centuries before Mark Carney took the reins in Threadneedle Street. And his advice to “Give every man thine ear but few thy voice” is the perfect coping mechanism for social media. 

2. Judith Kerr If you have young children, chances are you are more than familiar with Kerr’s seminal work, The Tiger Who Came to Tea. In it, Sophie is having tea with her mother in the kitchen when a big, furry, stripy tiger knocks on the door. It joins them and promptly eats and drinks everything in the house, forcing the family to go out for a special dinner when Sophie’s father comes home from work. Naturally, I don’t approve of the stereotypical gender roles in this plot; but the message of instinctive generosity and openness to unfamiliar outsiders, with unforeseen benefits for family life, undoubtedly carries lessons for our age of mass migration and rapid demographic upheaval.

3. Meryl Streep Less neglected than my other candidates for your attention, I’ll grant; but I really think Meryl Streep’s assertion, when asked in 2015 by Time Out if she was a feminist, is crucial. She said: “I’m a humanist.” In doing this she proclaimed the connection between feminism and universal ideals, placed feminism within a broader philosophical tradition, and revived interest in humanism at a time when religiosity is again on the march. Given the current conniptions over gender in our public domain, this was an important contribution, don’t you think?

4. Humphrey Appleby Have you noticed that, amid the toxic warfare over Brexit, the once unimpeachable integrity of Britain’s civil servants is now being traduced? Jacob Rees-Mogg criticised them only the other week. I recommend he revisit Yes, Minister, in which the peerless Nigel Hawthorne played the ultimate British bureaucrat. His dictum that “a cynic is what an idealist calls a realist” is both plausible and the perfect coolant for our
overheated democracy.

Back to the Ayn Rand philosophy club: I don’t believe I’ve tried the Plumbers Arms in Victoria. But I’ll make an exception if some New Statesman reader is prepared to start the first UK society dedicated to the propagation of these thinkers’ ideas. Anyone fancy a pint? 

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The polite extremist