Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Single Market was Mrs Thatcher’s great achievement for the UK

Parliament should be able to vote on whether leaving the EU means destroying this legacy.

The story of how Mrs Thatcher helped in the creation of the Single Market is told by Helene Von Bismarck here. She believed it would be of great benefit to the UK, and she was right. Here is a nice chart from this CBR report I discussed in my last post.


It shows the share of UK exports as a percentage of the GDP of the area exported to, for both the EU and the rest of the world. The rapid increase in the UK export share, doubling between 1990 and the beginning of the financial crisis, has to be largely down to the Single Market. [1]

But didn’t the CBR report say that the benefits of the Single Market had been exaggerated by the Treasury? Yes it did. Here is some of its reasoning. That growth in UK export share after the Single Market is not as impressive as it looks, because there is an underlying 6% positive trend in the share, which you can detect before we joined the EU. That looks pretty on a picture, until you realise it is nonsense. A 6% trend rise in an export share will imply that at some point not too far away UK exports to the EU will be as high as total EU GDP. UK exporters are just not that much better than exporters in other countries. There is no underlying trend rise in the UK’s export share.

As I say in The Independent, the rationale for going down the route of leaving the Single Market is completely wrongheaded. First, the Brexit vote was close - hardly a ringing endorsement for undoing Thatcher’s legacy. Second, all the evidence we have is that large numbers of Leave voters are not prepared to accept a reduction in their living standards as a price for reducing immigration, a reduction which is in the process of happening right now as a result of the collapse in Sterling. If you say we have no real evidence for this, show me your evidence that the referendum vote was a vote to leave the Single Market. If May really believes it when she says that the recent strength of the economy has convinced her that the costs of Brexit will not be that great, she is a fool. Third, the logic of saying that we cannot accept Single Market rules because we would have no say in what they are makes no sense because we will be worse off not accepting them. Once again, a majority of the country does not want to ‘take back control’ if it costs them money.

I say in The Independent that this is happening because May wants to finally show that she can bring down immigration, after 6 years trying and failing. It is also because she thinks she has to do this to keep her party together. But what Brexit means should not be up to the Prime Minister, particularly one who cannot be objective about immigration and who is a hostage to the Eurosceptic half of her party. The Single Market decision should be up to parliament. Leaving the Single Market was not on the referendum ballot paper, so it is not the ‘will of the people’. It does not follow automatically from the Leave decision, as many Leave campaigners correctly assured us before the vote.

Parliament should decide on whether we leave the Single Market as part of leaving the EU, not Theresa May. That is what living in a parliamentary democracy is all about. If the government denies MPs the chance to vote for leaving the EU but against leaving the Single Market, then that is effectively a coup against our democracy. MPs should block approval of invoking Article 50 until they get the opportunity to vote, in a way that is binding on the Prime Minister, to stay in the Single Market.


[1] The chart also casts doubt on the argument that being in the EU has held back UK exports to the rest of the world. This share was falling before we entered the EU, but has stabilised while we were a member.  

47 comments:

  1. You say some sensible things, and then spoil it all with

    "effectively a coup against our democracy".

    Foolish hyperbole. All you've done there is cast doubt on the sensible points you earlier make. Why would you think anyone unsure would be convinced by language like that.

    May's government clearly has the support of a Commons majority. That is how representative democracy works in the UK.

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    1. You know that is not how it works. MPs normally get to vote on issues, Leaving the Single Market is one of the most important decisions the UK has ever taken. Yet this government first attempted to deny MPs a vote on invoking Article 50, and will now deny MPs the ability to vote specifically on the Single Market. This is a huge power grab by the executive.

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    2. There is a chasm of difference between

      1. Government's failing to give Parliament votes on issues that politically they should, but legally are not obliged to

      and

      2. an illegal seizure of government.

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    3. And I though representative democracy worked by allowing MPs to scrutinise, debate and then vote on matters which will affect the whole country. If only I was more sensible I would agree with the Tories, deny MPs a vote, and just assume May's plan has a majority backing in Parliament...when it almost certainly doesn't...hence her refusal to allow a vote.

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    4. SH: We will almost certainly find out their initial attempt to deny parliament a vote on Article 50 was illegal.

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    5. Unlawful and illegal aren't the same. A coup would be treason and thus a crime, as well as undemocratic. The Supreme Court said a vote has to be held, fine. So the proper legal procedure was not followed, but it is not a coup. Not politically illegitimate either since the Tories did win the election. I'm interested if you think Brexit will be legit if the Commons votes in favour, though, not to mention voting in favour of leaving the single market! (How about ratifying the Treaty of Rome without a referendum? And so on)

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  2. The sophistry of your arguments do not disguise their inherent weaknesses.

    There is indeed no evidence that we voted to leave the Single Market because that was not the question asked so this is hardly surprising. However, you could argue that leaving the EU (which was the question) does involve leaving the Single Market because the Single Market is subsumed under the term of "the EU".

    If this is indeed the case then the rest of your argument fails as regards submitting the issue to Parliament because the Single Market issue is effectively subsumed under the issue of leaving the EU. In which case an uncharitable interpretation might be that it is a device to role back the issue in principle. I'm rather of the opinion that such a vote would be the coup rather than its absence.

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    1. This is nonsense. It is perfectly possible to leave the EU and stay in the Single Market. Many Leave campaigners said so during the campaign. So it cannot be said to follow automatically from leaving the EU.

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    2. @Mainly Macro19 January 2017 at 02:07

      Kindly explain. Surely, the Single Market is part of the EU. If the leavers said something different, since when does that convince you?

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    3. Well yes it's possible but, as May has said herself the UK:"cannot possibly remain within the European single market, as staying in it would mean not leaving the EU at all." That states the practical position very well as far as I can see whereas you seem to postulate a purely theoretical position which has no practicality.

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    4. Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are part of the Single Market due to their membership of the EFTA.

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    5. Thank you 'Unknown'. And if it was impossible, why was there so much discussion of it before and after the referendum. There has always been and remains a Norway option.

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    6. You may be strictly right here but, as one of the main planks of the Leave campaign was to restrict immigration, this is not compatible with membership of the Single Market so I can't see the Norway et al position being a practical alternative.I would be prepared to bet that most people would say that if we had to retain free movement we might just as well remain in the EU, as May has said.

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    7. What you say does not logically follow, because a majority of a majority is not necessarily a majority.

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  3. Once the impact of the increased CPI has come through by around March of this year, the current Tory government policy may look more like the Poll Tax.

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  4. Do you really think anyone with the slightest political nouse will get behind a vote to leave the door open to 'uncontrolled immigration' ?

    NK.

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    1. The party in power is relevant. The Conservatives have a 20 seat majority and if immigration is not reduced they are vulnerable to UKIP taking those seats in 2020. I don't want a Torykip coalition myself. One reason I voted Remain was I didn't want the Tories in charge of the terms of the exit. But I lost. While the single market was not on the ballot paper, neither was immigration or any other issue. Voters voted Leave or Remain knowing that a Tory government would decide how it was handled.

      I want to point out that the Maastricht Treaty was crucially important too. No referendum was held (fine with me). Major made it a vote of confidence to ensure it would pass and removed the whip from rebel MPs afterwards. So Parliament voted, in the way the executive told them to. So how would leaving the single market without a parliamentary vote be a power grab by the executive?

      There is a big problem here with Brexit and with Trump of people not accepting the legitimacy of the result. Yes, people were swayed by lies (e.g. it was almost certain there would be no single market if we got power over immigration). That happens in every election and referendum. The SNP are socialists who are gonna steal all your money was what won the Tories the 2015 election, it was false but we can't undo the result.

      I think there is a problem with liberal (or left-wing in your case) intellectuals who can't accept losing when they think they deserve to win. If we had cross-party support for repatriating powers over immigration then maybe the EU would have allowed it, esp if other countries' liberals and left saw sense too. They'd rather risk Brexit and Le Pen! (Any harm immigration might do to living standards is puny compared to the slow recovery of course, but its use by the right wing will never go away as we should have learned since the 90s)

      In the US the Clintonians said the result was not "normal", that Trump violates "norms", including by not saying that he would accept the general election result. The Clintonians lost the general election. Then they tried to get recounts. Then they tried to flip the electoral college. Then they continued to claim Trump was a Russian puppet even though they said that during the election and still lost. Enough! Krugman is off his rocker these days, please don't join him. Leaving the single market may be disruptive. It's not a coup. And can't future governments rejoin? (Hopefully after the EU surrenders on freedom of movement)

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  5. Issues like Scottish independence or Brexit deserve the care for a change in the Constitution - which is not one special law in the UK - but this is on HOW to decide, not on WHAT to decide.
    A bold man has half the world, and I am on the other side of sea-level. I am so glad this point is so low, that I may say something too. :)

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  6. Although the writer of this blog and most of his readers know what the term "the Single Market" means in EU technical discussions, I doubt that most other people (including many MPs) know its meaning.

    I think it would be very helpful if those proposing leaving the EU while still staying in the Single Market would spell out exactly which elements of the EU the UK would be leaving under this proposal.

    Almar

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  7. "Leading Remainers also made it clear that voting Leave would likely entail pulling Britain out of the single market. David Cameron said: ‘What the British public will be voting for is to leave the EU and leave the single market.’ George Osborne echoed him: ‘We would be out of the single market.’ There you go: the two then most powerful men in Britain saying Leave would mean leaving the single market."

    http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2017/01/voting-leave-meant-leaving-single-market-voters-knew/

    And the Brexit vote was very conclusive. The majority was 1.2 million which is greater than the population of Birmingham - the 2nd biggest city in the UK.

    Parliament will vote for Article 50 and it will vote for Clean Brexit or perhaps something else if the EU can come up with anything attractive. Because if this Parliament won't, the next one with a 150 seat Conservative majority will.

    Brexit is happening and it will be a clean break with a failing concept. Time to get behind the future.

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    1. Come on. The Leave campaign told us everything that Cameron and Osborne said was Project Fear.

      The Single Market is not a failing concept and never has been.

      Unlike you, I'm not prepared to 'get behind' a future where UK citizens will be poorer, and there will be a lot less money available for the NHS

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    2. You can't improve the NHS purely by relying on the proceeds of growth. That was the New Labour argument and it failed. The important metric is the ratio of spending to GDP, not the nominal figure. If we want a better NHS then we need to increase spending from 7% of GDP to 10%. That means finding new taxes, not relying on economic growth to plug the gap.

      One of the main reasons there isn't enough money for the NHS is because EU rules make it impossible for the UK to tax multinational companies effectively, or their own ex-pat citizens. I have advocated solutions to both (see http://cantab83.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/time-to-tax-ex-pats.html and http://cantab83.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/tax-avoidance-3-transfer-pricing.html for CCCTB).


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    3. "And the Brexit vote was very conclusive. The majority was 1.2 million which is greater than the population of Birmingham - the 2nd biggest city in the UK."

      A shamefully misleading, disingenuous use of statistics.
      If 1bn Chinese voted for something, and the winning side won 50.1% to 49.9% , then this is almost as close it can get be to a split decision, yet by your dishonest reckoning it would be a 'very conclusive' result, since the majority was 2m more voters than the losing side.
      Plus who in their right mind would want to "get behind" a more uncertain, poorer future?

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    4. Come on.

      "Unlike you, I'm not prepared to 'get behind' a future where UK citizens will be poorer, and there will be a lot less money available for the NHS"

      Well you clearly are, Simon, literally, because Brexit is happening and there are no financial restrictions on the NHS. There is always as much money as required.

      Importantly if there are no doctors to buy, then it doesn’t matter how much you extract with taxation. The NHS will not have any more capacity to treat patients.

      Once you get beyond numbers and start talking about what there is available to buy, you can see the constraints clearly. The restriction is qualified doctors available to buy at the current time. Stealing them from another country with poorer health outcomes than ours is *immoral*, so instead we need to look at where the doctors are deployed across the nation and what they are currently doing. (And yes we need to look and see if there are any more people available in the country that could be trained as doctors. But that is required investment for the future. It won’t solve today’s issue).

      When you do look around, you’ll find where a good supply of doctors you need is — in the private healthcare system. Because contrary to popular belief private healthcare does not reduce the load on the NHS. It take scarce doctors away from the NHS so they can treat people with money ahead of those with the most pressing clinical need. It is queue jumping for the wealthy.

      So the most pressing question in healthcare is not whether we need to tax the rich to save the NHS. Clearly we don’t. What we need to ask is whether private healthcare should continue to exist in the UK at all or whether we should ask the rich to get in the queue alongside the poor. You’ll struggle to find a politician making that case.

      There are other sources. There are many doctors that have retired or left the NHS completely. We should ask them why that is, and what it would take to persuade them to rejoin. Then we need to redesign the job using job enrichment techniques to make it more attractive. Nobody who loves being a doctor should be dissuaded from the profession by poor job design or system issues.

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    5. Maybe the nicest thing I can say about that is at least it was more decisive than Hillary Clinton's margin of victory.

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  8. I write this comment on an American machine, made in China, made possible by UK technology, and purchased in the EU.
    Do you think that non-EU countries are excluded from the Single Market?

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    1. Neither I or readers of my blog are stupid. Being a member of the Single Market is quite different from access to the market that is the EU.

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  9. But staying in the single market is not a UK only decision. It's contingent upon negotiating that with the EU upon leaving. If the UK wants to reject free movement, why should the rest of the EU allow them in the single market? And if accepting free movement is the price for staying in the single market, what is the point of leaving the EU at all? I agree that it's a power grab but I don't see how the UK is in any position to dictate terms of withdrawal from the EU. The UK needs the EU economically far more than the EU needs the UK.

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    1. Your last sentence is correct, which is why leaving the Single market will be so costly. The answer is to limit immigration by other means that are consistent with SM rules. The Swiss did it, and so can we.

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    2. I am most interested to know what Switzerland did then. Since all I heard about was the referendum on it which violated the SM and the EU said they couldn't implement it. What did they do beforehand?

      Larry Summers thinks Brexit could be worse for the EU than for the UK. http://larrysummers.com/2016/06/24/why-brexit-is-worse-for-europe-than-britain/

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  10. "MPs should block approval of invoking Article 50 until they get the opportunity to vote, in a way that is binding on the Prime Minister, to stay in the Single Market."

    Cameron said leave would mean leaving the single market. So did Osborne and Gove was equivocal. Everybody else said we would retain *access* to the single market.

    Regardless of benefits when we entered, the UK could be in a better position after exit than before we joined.

    People were very well aware that to stop immigration means leaving the Single Market. So go take your disgusting Thatcher worship elsewhere and apologise for making 1 out of every 20 workers involuntary unemployed *by design* and refusing to advice Corbyn and McDonnell properly.

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    1. He's not refusing to advise Jez and Provo properly, he just disagrees with you. You do have a point that the Tories won the election and the referendum was in the manifesto I'm sure. I doubt the current level of involuntary unemployment was created by the EU, it is giving the Eurozone a slower recovery but we are not in the Eurozone. Immigration is of course a major distraction from austerity versus stimulus and this makes the political cost of immigration high. And you should know SWL doesn't worship Thatcher.

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  11. Simon I don't think you've thought this through

    You do realise their is no such thing as comparative advantage ? That means you can't get the secret sauce anywhere else - because if you can then the entire theory of 'free trade' fails.

    Or we use the tariffs on imports to subsidise exports which then makes the whole thing a wash. (Do the maths)? Tariffs are not the problem - hence leaving the single market. Delays in customs are the problem.

    They can't do what we can do and take our import tariffs and use them to subsidise our exporters so there is no change in prices to our clients on the continent. That's the beauty of being a transfer zone as opposed to a bunch of states using the same currency.

    Because the Euro is a basket case for pretty much every country other than Germany. It favours net exporters over net importers - even though you need both for there to be any imbalance at all over the long term.

    It simply doesn't work as a concept. You cannot have a single currency without a single treasury to permit offsetting transfer payments to the periphery.

    No to mention our greatest export of all " sterling savings". Importers need our " sterling savings" so they can run huge trade surpluses and keep their currencies low. The only way they can get their hands on " sterling savings" is by selling us stuff.

    The domestic market is far, far bigger and Labour would be much better advised concentrating on providing jobs for all within the domestic market. As soon as they decide to get rid of some more failed models like the Nairu and the phillips curve that only promote a pool of unemployed.

    Probably given that the IS-LM curve has absolutely nothing to do with the real economy as John Hicks pointed out in 1980. (IS-LM: an explanation – in Journal of Post Keynesian Economics)

    I accordingly conclude that the only way in which IS-LM analysis usefully survives — as anything more than a classroom gadget, to be superseded, later on, by something better – is in application to a particular kind of causal analysis, where the use of equilibrium methods, even a drastic use of equilibrium methods, is not inappropriate.


    The Yen dropped twice as far as the £ has dropped and their inflation hardly moved. As every central bank and Bank Of International Settlements economic paper shows. Pass back inflation is minimal now that we use floatinG exchange rates.

    Why ?

    Because we all only have a set amount of money we can spend on food every month. So if Bird's Eye fish fingers become too expensive. We don't rush out and get a loan to buy them. We buy cheaper alternatives instead.

    So what does Bird's Eye do then to keep their market share ?

    As we speak there are thousands of importers from the EU worried sick how they are going to keep their market share as the £ falls.

    Just ask the Irish mushroom farmers.

    In a world of short demand they have few options.

    Cut their prices and thus the floating rate will adjust.

    Lose jobs

    Reduce the quality of their product

    Go out of business.


    This is what happens when you choose an export to growth model and decide to export your youth unemployment to the Periphary. " Sterling savings" is more important to you than finding poeple work at home and concentrating on domestic aggregate demand. Instead they supress their own domestic demand so they can steal others domestic demand by grabbing as many " sterling savings" they can get hold of.

    You completely fail to grasp the role " sterling savings" play in all of this because again they are not in any of your models.

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  12. Worth noting that ad late as 5th December Theresa May stated that she was seeking a deal "within" the single market. So even she did not believe she had a mandate requiring departure from the single market.

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  13. As late as 5th December Theresa May was proposing staying "within" the single market. So she didn't believe the referendum result required departure from it.

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  14. Is there an argument for saying that the Single Market has, by virtue of the fillip given to the City, helped to create a high Pound that has made the UK labour market very uncompetitive?

    If that's the case then is itinteresting that one impact of Brexit uncertainty has been that the Pound has fallen to a level that, if sustained and stable, would hold out the prospect of UK labour market competitiveness and a reward for those regions that suffered worse under a City centric GDP?

    Unfettered EU migration may well reduce as a consequence of the falling Pound but surely this just emphasises that Brexit is already delivering for those who voted for it?

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    1. Ask them about that when their real wages start falling.

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    2. Real wages have already fallen due to depreciation of the pound. If the poor recovery has made people desperate for any improvement, and support Brexit in sufficient numbers, then they can move on to getting angrier at immigration for the same reason.

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  15. Whilst I agree with your argument, the maths don't stack up, nor do recent polls - 55% want us to get on with leaving, single market or no. It's regrettable, and I'd like to see more politicians making the argument for the Single Market (I do believe the argument could be won over time), but its where we are. This is an argument that was lost over 30 years (media, Tory governments, UKIP), not 1.
    A crumb of comfort: I don't think all is yet lost and I do wish the EU would be smarter (though I understand why they're not)over state aid (not FoM).

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    1. Polls that ask whether people want to 'get on with leaving' are meaningless.

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  16. "A majority of the country does not want to 'take back control' if it costs them money". How do you know this? Some Lexit people will want to leave the EU to escape its Tory-like fetish for structural reform and because the Eurozone depression has proven that the German export surplus counts for more than social democratic laws or avoiding 25% unemployment: the Commission and the pinkos in France and Germany were really Thatcherites and not our friends.

    Right-wingers may, in large numbers perhaps, want to curb immigration for good even if it makes us poorer in the short or even the long term, and of course they think that free-market reforms and tax cuts for the rich will make an independent UK thrive despite being outside the single market.

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  17. Polling
    Polls currently show https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/xalfiwu0ed/TimesResults_170118_VI_Trackers_MaySpeech_W.pdf majorities for leaving the single market if it shows a majority in favour of leaving the single market with "the greatest possible" access from outside. Only 21% are against. So SW-L you think the Noes will later capture all the Don't Knows and some of the Yesses when reality hits home. But look at the wording of the question:

    "Greatest possible access" means from outside the single market. It's right there in the question. The possibility of us being poorer has already been raised.

    Now look at the immigration question. Control over EU immigration? 75% think that's right. So you think that will flip to >50% once we leave the single market and people have regrets? I think you have no basis for that assertion. Logically the public seems to be prioritising immigration control over single market access and by a wide margin.

    Yes, the right has grossly exaggerated any negative effect of immigration to use as an electoral weapon against Labour. But if people have exaggerated views of what immigration does, do you think those fears will be put to rest if leaving the single market is bad for the economy? Do you think people will turn to thinking that immigration would be worth it to get back in? That can happen only if the exaggerated view evaporates. Which will happen only if the right wing puts down the immigration weapon, which they are not gonna do. Indeed come 2020 they will need that argument more than ever, especially if growth has been harmed by quitting the single market!

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  18. The title of this post says it all really. It was Mrs Thatcher’s great achievement because it imposed laissez-faire free-market neo-liberalism on an entire continent and managed to hoodwink most politicians on the left at the same time. For that reason alone the single market represents EVERYTHING that is wrong with the EU. As I have pointed out here (http://cantab83.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/the-case-for-hard-brexit.html) it has no redeeming features.

    Every one of the four freedoms is detrimental to UK interests and to the ability of a future UK Labour government to implement socialist and Keynesian economic policies. Austerity in a recession is the inevitable consequence of single market rules. It could even threaten the minimum wage and the NHS. It is a vehicle for tax avoidance across the continent, it exposes our financial sector to external risks that we have no control over, and the immigration issue exposes us to unlimited welfare liabilities while rendering member states financially insolvent as they will be unable to tax an ever more mobile financial elite in order to fund their public services. As Steve Keen among others has pointed out, it is doomed to fail because its design is fundamentally flawed, and it cannot be reformed from the inside because you will never get the total agreement of 28 member states on anything.

    Simon, your argument in favour of remaining sounds more like that of an accountant than an economist. You fail to accept that the fall in sterling is a) a good thing because sterling was overpriced, and b) could lead to a necessary rebalancing of our economy in the longer term. That in turn could lead to greater prosperity. It will certainly make it easier for a future Labour government to implement a proper Keynesian interventionist economic programme.

    As for your interpretation of democracy: no-one who voted leave voted for Brexit-lite. They all understood that Brexit means Brexit. Moreover, all those who voted to leave did so enthusiastically, while a considerable number of people who voted remain did so because they feared the uncertainty and didn't have the courage of their convictions. In reality the majority who would ideally like to leave the EU is more than 52:48. It is probably closer to 60:40 or even 75:25.

    Finally, if you want to give people a democratic choice over the single market (and a debate to go with it) then the more logical approach would be to leave the EU completely and then have a second referendum to see if people want to opt back in to the single market. It is not to try and undermine the validity of the first referendum. That just makes you appear like an undemocratic elitist and a sore loser.

    Of course the great irony in all this is that many of the people who have driven the anti-EU campaign are generally the most supportive of Thatcherite economics. I guess it is a case of be careful what you wish for. And as Steve Keen points out here (https://debunking.podbean.com/e/20-mays-got-the-wrong-plan-for-brexit/) a free trade agreement with the USA could be even worse.

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  19. I don’t get the whole thing. The rationale for leaving the single market is that the EU is not going to accept single market membership without freedom of movement. But the UK wants to control immigration, hence it has no choice.

    Now what's this obsession about immigration? Paul Mason recently argued that the vast majority of people are not racists or xenophobes but they see that immigration drives the wages down. Fair enough but then if it's about wages, why not simply increase the minimum wage? Or is that too socialist?

    Or is that too simplistic?

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    1. You are right, but just one additional point. To say it was all about immigration is a conjecture, not a fact like the referendum vote. It is also clear from polls that most people do not want to control immigration if they lose financially as a result. For those who think leaving the Single Market will reduce voters standard of living (including Leave voters), they are following public opinion in voting against leaving the single market.

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  20. You cannot discuss the UK joining the EU without discussing how the decline of trade with the former UK colonies was collapsing in the 1960s and 70s. The only way out for the UK was the EU.

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