What Vote Leave said about UK membership of the single market

by Stephen Tall on January 18, 2017

So this morning I tweeted:

I got a fair few replies to this and to my blog-post yesterday, in which I wrote:

I can’t feign the outrage I’ve seen expressed today about our departure from the single market. Of course I think it’s the wrong choice. And yes, I think Vote Leave was deliberately disingenuous in the referendum campaign in eliding single market membership/access. It’s also quite possible that a referendum specifically on membership of the single market might have produced a different result.

So here’s my all-purpose response to those who disagreed in various ways…

It’s true that various Leavers said different things in the run-up to the 23 June referendum. Then again, there was scarcely unity in the Remain camp either: the visions of Cameron, Corbyn and Farron of the future of the EU were very different (even if they were mostly suppressed during the campaign itself).

But the official Vote Leave campaign was clear: exiting the EU meant leaving the single market. Check out its official site or any of the reports from the campaign, such as that FT headline in my tweet.

And if you don’t want to take it from the Vote Leave side, what about checking out what Remain’s Stronger In campaign had to say here? There are regular attacks on the Leavers for saying the UK should no longer be members of the single market.

Now, as I said in the excerpt from my blog, above, I think Vote Leave were deliberately, even misleadingly, ambiguous about the distinction between membership of the single market and access to it. Its leaders would doubtless disagree.

Remainers should, though, be cautious before accusing others of questionable campaigning: after all, the early recession many of us expected hasn’t materialised. Sure, we warned of the economic risks in good faith. But maybe we should consider Vote Leave argued to get out of the single market in good faith, too?

Beyond the principle of it, by the way, there is another reason why Vote Leave openly supported the UK leaving the single market — it wanted to avoid being portrayed by Remain as being in favour of a Norway-style model of associate EU membership (paying a membership fee but not making the rules) as that would have torpedoed its three principal lines of attack: that the UK would be £350m a week richer outside the EU, that we could control immigration, and that we should ‘take back control’.

One final point. I’ve previously been a supporter of referendums for settling key issues. I like the idea of a participatory democracy. The 23rd June has made me think again – and not just because my side lost (though I suppose I’ve thought about it more because it did).

There was a fundamental flaw and structural imbalance in the referendum campaign. Remain had to defend the EU, not an easy gig after two decades of full-frontal media assault. Leave’s job was purely oppositional: to say the UK could be better off out of the EU. But I like the maxim ‘no opposition without proposition’.

So, if we are to have future referendums in this country, we should expect both sides to produce manifestos which set out their plans for full scrutiny — as, to be fair, the SNP did in advance of the Scottish referendum on independence.