It’s being widely reported that Theresa May is going for the “hard’ Brexit, arguing that in the referendum people made a clear decision to leave the EU behind altogether. That’s not how I remember the debates. While the EU referendum was going on, we were constantly being told that leaving the institutions of the EU would not mean that the UK didn’t have access to the European single market. For example, the pro-leave Bruges Group put out a video, fronted by Norman Tebbit, arguing for Britain to work through the European Economic Area. A spokesman for the Bruges Group argued on that video:
“Britain could still remain a member of the single market, which is the European Economic Area, or EEA, which allows for free movement of goods, services, capital and people. And that means that as far as business is concerned, businesses will trade as they have before. But the difference will be that regulations will no longer apply to 100% of the UK, but only, if you want, the 9% that are directly involved with export.”
Michael Gove – remember him? – argued, in The Telegraph on 22nd June:
There is no trade-off between any of this and greater prosperity; in fact, the very opposite is true. The premises of Project Fear – that Brexit would trigger economic dislocation, a trade war and a recession – are utterly bogus. We would join the European Economic Area in the short-term, like Norway, retaining access to the single market, before negotiating our own, à la carte deal with the EU …
A YouGov poll, shortly before the vote, claimed that most people in Britain favoured the Norway option. Now, of course, none of this is equivalent to an election manifesto, and there is nothing here that today’s politicians should need to feel bound by. But it does reflect on the mantra that we’re hearing that people voted to get out and so the route is all very clear.
Additional note: This video, linked to on the Guardian website, offers clips of Carswell, Farage, Daniel Hannan and Ruth Lea making contradictory statements about whether we would be in or out of the EEA and the customs union. There was never, as people are now claiming, a clear agenda to leave all these arrangements behind.