The UK’s faith in a ‘sweet Brexit’ isn’t just deluded – it’s dangerous

Joris Luyendijk writes: As the UK political class zigzags towards the abyss, saying one thing about Brexit today and another thing tomorrow, any illusions in EU capitals that the summer holiday may have brought British MPs to their senses must now be put to rest. Indeed, the daily British displays of hope for a sweet “soft Brexit” deal illustrate not only the tenacity of British self-delusion. More than that, they lay bare a persistent and dangerous ignorance of the internal logic of the EU.

Talk in British media and politics is still too often of the need for a “tough negotiator” who can deliver a great deal for Britain, keeping the benefits of single market membership without any (or many) of the obligations and costs. What is required, so the thinking goes even in most remain circles, is an acceptance on the part of the EU that it is in nobody’s interest to “punish Britain” in order to “discourage other countries from leaving”.

The first problem here is the term “single market”. Brexiteers and remainers alike seem to cling to a 19th-century notion of separate nations making their own products and trading them with other countries. The chief political project is then to lower or ideally abolish tariffs so that the so-called comparative advantages of free trade kick in.

Last week chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier called this view “nostalgic”, and for good reason. The EU is rapidly evolving into something far more ambitious than just a free trade area: it is in the process of becoming one huge economic zone governed by a single set of rules and standards and overseen by a single European court of justice, striking trade deals with the rest of the world and deriving its logic and coherence from the four famous freedoms of goods, capital, services and labour. Products such as cars, computers or aeroplanes are now built from components made in factories and production units scattered across the EU, with employees moving seamlessly between them. For this reason “single economy” is a far better term than “single market”. [Continue reading…]

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