David Davis demonstrates humiliating misunderstanding of EU

I set off something of a Twitter storm on Thursday evening after David Davis’ speech in Berlin. I replicate my thread in one place here:

This evening in Germany, David Davis has demonstrated a frankly humiliating misunderstanding of even the basics of the EU.

Firstly, even if somehow Angela Merkel were scared that the German economy could be crippled by, er, not being able to export freely to a smaller country like the UK, she cannot intervene to offer the UK a special deal. No one can.

Let us repeat: the EU is the Single Market and the Single Market is the EU. Let us also repeat: the Single Market is a market of rules. This is the fundamental point David Davis has failed to grasp.

For that reason, participation in the Single Market by any non-EU State is determined by which rules that State is willing to adopt. And that is the end of it. (Norway adopts nearly all of them, for example; Moldova just a few.)

David Davis therefore still hasn’t grasped that this negotiation is not “We give a bit, you give a bit”. It is essentially “Here are the rules of the Single Market; tell us which ones you no longer wish to apply and that will determine your level of participation in it.”

This really should be obvious. How otherwise could a 27/28-member bloc function if it did not have rules? And those rules cannot be amended other than with the support of the whole bloc.

This is all to leave quite aside that David Davis vastly overstates the UK’s economic importance. Germany sells many multiples more cars in China and the US, for example. That is a basic matter of fact.

UK really should have worked out by now, more than halfway between Referendum and Brexit Day, that this whole “They’ll bend to our will” stuff is a myth. It can’t happen – and wouldn’t, even if it could.

And for any UK Minister to go anywhere else and tell the locals not to put “politics before prosperity” is, right now, to set a new world record in gross hypocrisy. For that is precisely and embarrassingly what the UK alone is doing with Brexit.

David Davis’ call for co-operation in the interests of mutual prosperity was met with an obvious first question from a German journalist: “If that is what you want, why are you leaving?

Quite.

To address some issues raised subsequently…

That these basic misunderstandings of the EU were apparent during the referendum campaign does raise some questions over the legitimacy of the outcome. David Davis himself spoke of a “UK-German trade deal” – something which is impossible.

What brings the referendum outcome more into question is the whole myth that the EU would “bend to the UK’s will”. Firstly, this vastly overstates the importance of the UK’s economy in the modern world (even though some continue to deny it, moving to WTO rules would mean that suddenly the majority of the UK’s trade would be conducted under them as opposed to a very small proportion; whereas for the EU, it would make a much smaller difference – from a very small proportion to a still quite small proportion). Secondly, and more importantly, it ignores the fact that the EU is a Single Market based on rules which are agreed between all its members and this cannot just be altered by a few appointed negotiators. (To be specific, I noted that Germany sells more cars in China, including those manufactured there – a notably point in itself since supply line problems threaten the entire UK car industry post-Brexit.)

Although I understand what is meant by the term “remaining in the Single Market” and “remaining in the Customs Union”, I prefer more precise phrasing. The EU is the Single Market – so if you are not in the EU, by definition you are not in the Single Market; however, you may participate in the Single Market (as Norway and Iceland do almost fully, Switzerland does fairly fully, or Moldova does partially), provided you adhere to its rules. Likewise, the Customs Union is the EU Customs Union – so if you are not in the EU, by definition you are not in its Customs Union; however, you may choose to form a new Customs Union with it (the Irish Government’s phrase “remain in the same Customs Union” is quite helpful and precise here.)

Leaving the EU does not automatically mean leaving Euratom; Euratom’s membership happens to be the same as the EU’s currently, but in fact it comes under a different agreement. So even though it has indicated it wishes to leave (for reasons I cannot grasp), the UK could and absolutely must opt to remain in it – otherwise there will be a serious threat in areas such as radiotherapy treatment.

Some Leavers argue that the fact the EU is a market of rules and thus in effect cannot negotiate means the UK should simply prepare to leave with no deal. There is some logic to that position. The fundamental problem with it, as noted above, is it is not what was the stated position of the Leave campaign during the referendum – quite on the contrary, they said both before and after that a “good deal” would be “easy” and even (simply incorrectly) that “no one [was] talking about leaving the Single Market”. It may also be noted that at a General Election in June aimed at giving the Conservatives a mandate to negotiate any kind of Brexit, they did not receive that mandate and indeed a (narrow) majority of votes were cast for parties advocating “maintenance of all the benefits of the Single Market”.

From an objective point of view, plainly on the basis of the “will of the people” the UK Government has neither a mandate to remain in the EU, nor to leave it with no deal. Therefore it seems to me almost inevitable, not least as the implications become clearer, that the people will need to be consulted again to establish what their “will” actually is. 

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