Brexit means Brexit. That’s what our newly-crowned Prime Minister keeps telling us. It’s an odd thing to say; at no other time would this be an acceptable definition. If you opened up your 2017 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary and the definition, nestled between brewsterite and Briard, simply stated “Brexit”, you’d ask for your money back. So what does Brexit really mean?
At present, it looks likely that Brexit will mean the UK staying in the single market without being a full member of the EU. The reason this looks likely? The “big four” of the government, i.e. Theresa May, Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd and Boris Johnson, have all stated that they favour staying in the single market. This was often referred to during the fateful referendum campaign as the “Norway-model”. So what does the Norway-model entail?
Firstly, remaining in the single market means the UK would still have to make contributions to the EU budget. No-one yet knows how much these contributions would be, but we may be able to have an educated guess. In 2011, as a full member of the EU, the UK’s net contribution to the EU worked out at roughly £128 per capita per annum. As a member of the single market, Norway’s net contribution worked out at roughly £106 per capita per annum. Bearing this in mind, the House of Commons library estimated that by leaving the EU but remaining in the single market, our net EU contributions would fall by 25% to £96 per capita per annum.
In total, the reduction would mean our net contribution falling from just over £8bn a year to just over £6bn a year. You may think a £2bn saving every year sounds great, but it’s worth bearing in mind that this equates to less than 0.3% of the UK government’s annual budget.
As a member of the single market, Norway is signed up to free movement of people, goods, services and capital. By staying in the single market, the UK would still have no control over immigration, and it would still have to abide by the vast majority of EU regulations. It’s estimated that of the 100 most costly EU regulations, Norway have been obliged to implement 93.
There is a big difference though between Norway’s relationship with these regulations as a member of the single market and the UK’s relationship as a full member of the EU; the UK’s representatives to the EU have voted in favour of 87% of all EU regulations. Norway’s representatives have voted in favour of 0% of them. This is because Norway has no right to vote on EU laws. By ceasing to be a member, the UK would lose its rights to vote on EU laws and its influence, but would still have to implement the vast majority of rules that it could no longer vote on.
There is a reason that the big players in shaping Brexit all want to remain in the single market, despite the fact that it simply means giving up the control we currently have for a relatively small saving: it would be economically catastrophic to leave it. The pound has already weakened dramatically, falling to its lowest value since 1985. This fall has been caused by the mere thought of Brexit. How much further could it fall if we left the single market altogether?
The fact is this: the referendum was not binding, merely advisory. The vote was won by a Leave campaign based on lies and deception – what was smeared as scare-mongering tended to be truth. In light of this, would it be a disaster for Theresa May to ignore the referendum result or would it be one of the best decisions any UK Prime Minister has ever made?