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Calls for a Soft Brexit undermine Remain
10 Dec, 2017

Soft Brexit offers nothing to anyone: the choice is Hard Brexit, or Remain.

London 4 Europe Committee Member Michael Romberg cannot see why some pro-EU bodies campaign for a soft Brexit. As damage limitation it is unrealistic; as an objective it is harmful. Such campaigners should stop dividing the movement.

Hard or Soft Brexit: it is our choice

The EU would be happy to see us in the EEA (the Norway option) – Soft Brexit - if we wanted that: in the Single Market with freedom of movement and paying a budget contribution. Or they would be willing to see us as a third country – Hard Brexit - outside freedom of movement rules and negotiate a Canada-style trade agreement, with all its defects for the UK.

Boris’ have-your-cake-and-eat-it Brexit, Fantasy Brexit, is not available. Nor is Keir Starmer’s for that matter.

The basic choice of Hard or Soft Brexit is ours to make.

Is there anything genuinely good about a Soft Brexit?  

Yes. The UK would be free of the Common Agricultural Policy. That would be good - no, really good - if we moved to a free market in agricultural production and in products that met our standards. But if we just replace the CAP by our own big subsidy and protection regime little will have been gained.  

Apart from that it is hard to think of any benefit from a Soft Brexit.

Why would any Leave voter want a Soft Brexit?  

Think of what Leavers want:

  • control of immigration - that means we cannot be members of the Single Market
  • freedom to sign trade deals with the rest of the world - that means we cannot be in the Customs Union
  • Sovereignty - that means we cannot be under the ECJ, which rules out membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union.  
  • £350m for the NHS instead of paying the EU - that means we cannot pay to the budget, so we cannot be in the Single Market (I’m ignoring that lower economic performance after Brexit would reduce the money available for public services).

Why would the EU give any sort of Soft Brexit acceptable to Leave?  

For Theresa May, the benefit of the Leave vote is the chance to implement her anti-immigration agenda.  That – along with quitting the Human Rights Convention - is her core belief, as her time at the Home Office showed. It was the rest of the Cabinet who saw the benefits of immigration that prevented her from achieving her objectives.   

For the EU, the pillars of the Union are indivisible.   So if the UK obtains a degree of immigration control which meets Theresa May's wishes how can the EU offer Soft Brexit terms for the single market? Even in the EU there are limits to "variable geometry". 

And if you did get a Soft Brexit what would be the point?  

But let's assume we have a Soft Brexit deal. Everything stays pretty well as now. Just before the Remain campaigners congratulate themselves on a job well done, consider: we will have gone from being rule-makers to being rule-takers. And for what?  

Let us remember what the EU is about

For Remainers, for most EU countries, the EU is not a trade agreement plus add-ons. It is the great European peace project. It looks at two world wars and thinks never again.   

The EU is the great European democracy project. It helped countries that emerged from home grown or Warsaw Pact dictatorships to become free. The EU looks at those countries outside the EU which have yet to fully make that journey and tries to help. 

It looks at how to bring people and communities together across awkward national boundaries – the Irish Border is just one example of many.

To pursue a Soft Brexit is not just to leave the European peace and democracy project. It is to accept Leavers' argument that the EU is a trade area with ideas above its station.  

The choice is Hard Brexit or Remain  

There is not going to be a Soft Brexit because there is nothing in it for the Government or for Leave or for any Remainer who understands the European Project. 

Every day that someone makes the case for Soft Brexit s/he says that Brexit is alright, so long as it meets certain conditions. That will not change Brexit – it just undermines the case for Remain.

All pro-EU bodies should come out clearly for Remain, not for a Soft Brexit.