Those of us who have followed the EU for years will only be all too familiar with a certain pattern. The EU makes proposals — and takes initial steps to formalise them — that are so astoundingly tin-eared and untenable that national governments and electorates scream in protest. After insisting for some time that “there is no other way”, the EU relents and proposes a heavily pruned, watered-down version of what it had previously asserted was “non-negotiable”. Electorates and national governments, no longer shocked by the now more palatable proposals, grudgingly accept them.
Of course, these watered-down proposals were what the EU wanted all along. Had they made the same proposals without the truly awful, extreme versions first they would not be politically acceptable. See? The democratic process works, etc, blah, blah and blah some more. For a few years life in Europe continues on and few are any wiser.
Today I read that a group of Tory and Labour MPs met in order to press the British Government to agree to keep the United Kingdom in the Single Market and Customs Union. The former would not be feasible. Labour and the Conservatives stated explicitly in their manifestos that the UK would withdraw from that. The latter would be diplomatically suicidal. Being part of the Customs Union means that a country cannot negotiate or sign independent trade deals. After numerous countries — including New Zealand, Australia, Ghana, the United States and India among others have started informal talks about post-liberation deals, the loss of face for these countries and for London would cause permanent damage to Britain’s credibility.No British government can agree to that.
Suddenly, the proposal raised by the British Government at the start of this year seems relatively palatable. That is,post-liberation citizens of EEA member states would be granted a five-year work permit that is renewable if they have a job offer from a British employer. This is not unlike what Croatian citizens are obliged to seek today or what Romanians and Bulgarians had to seek before all restrictions were dropped per European treaty. Most EEA citizens moving to the UK already have job offers. The Swiss have a relatively similar situation post-negotiation. Ah, but the UK will be in control and it will have nearly unfettered access to the European market! Isn’t this so much better than the Single Market and Customs Union that “some” proposed? Of course the UK will still have to make contributions to the EU budget, but the sharp reduction and still largely free access makes up for that, innit?