We are leaving the EU, that’s what we voted for, but what happens next is undecided.
During the EU referendum I was faced with a choice. I could defy my party and back Brexit which I had secretly supported for a few years before the referendum was even announced. This would put me at odds with people I had campaigned alongside since I had joined the Lib Dems or I could just not take part. When the referendum was announced I made the decision I would back leaving the EU, I simply couldn’t sit this decision out.
So there I was, looking at the homepage of Vote Leave. It wasn’t the main campaign at the time and both Grassroots Out and Leave.EU looked like they would attempt to become the official leave campaign. I knew it was the only chance for Liberal voices to be heard so I joined. Over the course of the campaign I had been out campaigning for vote leave, delivering leaflets as well as standing at street stalls. I also took part in a few debates as a member of the Liberal Leave executive board, a group I helped to set up. When the referendum was finally over I sat watching my TV and saw the third result of the night, we had won Sunderland. I already thought we had won the referendum so it made me turn to the next question. What does brexit mean?
Well let’s split this up. First is what the result of the referendum means for the UK. We voted to leave the EU so that is the direction we should head in. I dislike the idea of a second referendum because if we hold more than one referendum I fear we will get to the point where people keep asking the question until they get the result we want. For the same reason I supported the first Scottish independence referendum but don’t support a second one.
The Customs Union and the Single Market though can be joined without EU membership. We can maintain being part of the Single Market through the European Free Trade Association and remain part of European Union Customs Union through an agreement like Turkey has with the EU. The EU referendum was on our membership of the EU and that means leaving the EU, it doesn't have to mean leaving the Customs Union or the Single market.
I agree with remaining inside the single market but not the European Union Customs Union. The EU’s Customs Union consists of two main parts, abolishing customs checks and having a common external tariff/sharing the EU’s Free Trade Deals. The abolition of customs checks was brought about by the single market as “…the abolition of frontier controls came with the creation of the internal market, rather than with the customs union”. As long as the UK stays in the single market we won’t have to deal with too many more customs checks but we can still make our own free trade deals. This is because: “The restriction on negotiating trade deals stems not from the customs union but from the EU’s common commercial policy and its exclusive competence over international trade agreements”.
I do believe that the UK needs to stay within the Single Market though to ensure stability on our way out of the EU. While inside the EFTA+EEA agreement we would only accept single market laws without any of the more political sides of the EU. “Single makret acquis (21% of EU law)…Most are global rules…Remaining acquis (79% of EU law)…Exempt”. Free movement can also be dealt with through safeguard measures using Liechtenstein as precedent. After that one of the fundamental parts of the ‘Flexit’ plan is to wait for global bodies like the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe to overtake the Single Market so we can then leave the EFTA+EEA agreement.
I suppose it doesn't really matter what I think on the EU’s Customs Union and the Single Market, it should be the decision of the people in a referendum if we are members of either of these agreements.