Head to Head: Soft or Hard Brexit?


What do you think? Read both arguments and vote in our poll below!

Supporting a hard Brexit – Darren Grimes, Deputy Editor of BrexitCentral

As many BrexitCentral authors have made clear time and again, any Brexit deal that entails membership of either the EU’s single market or the customs union does not involve taking back control of our borders, our laws, our money and our trade policy and is therefore not Brexit. Some might insist on calling it ‘soft Brexit’ but I would call it ‘non-Brexit’.

Brexit should be, and could be, a campaign to give back the impetus to freer trade in the world. One of the strongest arguments for leaving the EU was restoring the ability of the UK to set its own trade policy. This would give us the ability to reduce import duties both to lower the prices of goods for consumers and as part of free trade agreements (“FTAs”) with other countries who would reduce tariffs on our exports in return.

The disruptions of leaving the single market and the customs union are obvious: imposition of tariffs, customs complexity, lack of financial services access and so on. The opportunities are less obvious and it is worth restating them properly. We are not weighing trade deals with other countries versus trade deals with the EU. The opportunities are:
Improving our own domestic economic environment through selective tariff reductions where we can, and improving our regulatory environment.
Making trade deals with countries bilaterally and by joining existing structures.
Improving the global rules by taking a more active role in the WTO and other global bodies
The common external tariff (which sets out the duties and quotas that apply to imports into the customs union) imposes duties on products that the UK does not produce so has no domestic interests to protect (unlike the EU). Often these form stumbling blocks in the EU’s negotiations with third countries, for example the FTA negotiations with Japan stalled on discussions around products like wine and tinned tomatoes, delaying a deal that would have reduced tariffs on auto parts and opened up services access in Japan.

If the UK had a customs arrangement with the EU like Turkey has, it would have no say in the levels of tariffs to be applied or the common commercial policy generally. This is self-evidently giving up control to an even greater extent than being a member of the EU.

Even if a zero tariff arrangement is agreed in the Article 50 process, the reintroduction of customs procedures for trade between the UK and the EU will give rise to some disruption but the likely extent of this has been overstated. The UK and the other 27 EU member states have some of the fastest and cheapest customs clearance in the world. In France, for example, according to official figures the average merchandise dwell time at customs is less than 5 minutes. This is because most of the process is carried out online, before a consignment of goods is shipped, and physical checks at the border only happen where a risk has been identified.

Supporting a soft Brexit Eric Kostadinov, Senior Campaign Agent and Sub-editor, Talk Politics

There is an elephant in the room when it comes to what kind of Brexit the British people voted for. You often hear cries of, ‘we know what we voted for’, ‘we want immigration lowered’ , and ‘we want a greater say over our laws’. However, something that many Brexiteers conveniently forget is that none of those policy changes were on the ballot paper. What was on the ballot paper was only whether Britain should leave the EU. This is going to happen, and thus there can be no moaning from Brexiteers on that front. But on what conditions, that is the question!

Obviously, leaving the single market and ending freedom of movement were discussed in the run up to the referendum, but the Leave campaign never set out what Brexit was actually going to look like. Indeed, even some of the promises they did make seem completely and utterly false 18 months down the line (350 million for the NHS?). Some argue that to feel the benefits of Brexit we need to leave the single market, or that without leaving the single market we may as well just remain in the EU. In reality, these points still do not mean that the government needs to pull us out of the single market. If this government or the next government decide they want Britain to remain in the single market, in light of verifiable evidence that it would be the best thing for the country, they are able to and should be able to without cries from Brexiteers that they are subverting democracy.

Moreover, the most representative Brexit would be the softest Brexit possible, given the closeness of the referendum result. 48% of the public thought that we should remain inside the EU, and thus if we left the single market and the customs union, and stopped freedom of movement, we would only be pleasing a minority, as it must be remembered that not all Brexiteers want to see a complete break off from Europe. No-one who voted for Brexit knew what type of Brexit they were voting for, and thus it is down to the government to decide what is the best type of Brexit.

The above are reasons why advocating Britain should remain in the single market does not undermine democracy and would actually be the most representative Brexit for the British public. But, Britain should also remain in the single market because it would be frankly ludicrous to give up tariff free access to the biggest trading bloc in the world. Not only this, but remaining in the single market would mean continued free movement of labour, and this is vital and necessary to the British economy. If we were to leave the single market under this government, the Conservatives could look to radically reduce immigration to appease what they see as many leave voters main desire. This would be disastrous.

Finally, leaving or remaining in the single market also comes down to a certain set of principles. The principle of freedom of movement is that those in other EU countries have the same rights as domestic citizens, and this should remain the case. We should be looking to, as far as possible, further enhance our relationship with Europe and its people through increased integration and close-knit economies in a way that pleases the most people. Leaving the single market is not representative of the British public, and would be a disaster for our economy due to the ending of free movement of labour and having to abide by tariffs to trade with the EU in the future. Do not let Brexiteers tell you that leaving the single market and ending free movement is what people voted for. It wasn’t.

Where do you stand? Who won? Share the arguments and vote for the winner in the poll below.

Image MPD1605 @Flickr


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