Britain must stay in the single market and customs union. After all, it’s the will of the people.

, by Eoin Burgin

Britain must stay in the single market and customs union. After all, it's the will of the people.
UK Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis (L) and the European Commission’s Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier (R), Reuters

Since the EU referendum, Brexit-supporting politicians have acted as if they have a mandate to take the UK out of the EU’s single market and customs union. They don’t; and if Theresa May isn’t willing to stand up to them, the consequences will be disastrous.

In legal terms, the EU referendum was advisory. Does this mean it should be ignored? No.

What it does mean, however, is that the government should interpret the result carefully, and design a strategy that properly reflects how the country voted. The referendum should advise the government that 52% of voters want to leave the EU. But it should also advise the government that 48%, or almost half, of voters want to remain in the EU. It should advise the government that Scotland and Northern Ireland wish to remain in the EU, while England and Wales want to leave. The government’s current strategy in no way reflects this outcome. David Davis and his negotiating team are behaving as if 70%, or 80% of people had voted to leave, not 52%.

Let’s not forget, alongside this, that throughout the referendum campaign, no serious politician even entertained the idea of leaving the single market or customs union. It wasn’t on the ballot in the first place. Only after the referendum, did rabid politicians, foaming at the mouth at the thought of slashing worker’s rights, advocate for a ‘hard’ Brexit.

Leaving the EU, while remaining in the single market and customs union, is the most democratic decision. It would substantially reduce the UK’s budgetary contributions to the EU, whilst ensuring that UK citizens retain their right to live, work and travel within Europe, and vice-versa. It would see powers return to London from Brussels, whilst preventing job losses, and maintaining our crucial trading relationship with the EU. It would act as a compromise; addressing some, but not all, of the concerns of leave and remain voters.

Genuine progress on this issue is impossible, however, while Theresa May is being held hostage by a fringe group of hard-right MPs. Since the 2017 general election, the Prime Minister’s authority has been shattered, and she has lost the confidence of both her own party, and the British public. It is blatantly obvious to all that the PM is no longer in control of her cabinet; Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox are now the ones in charge of Brexit. Until opposition parties have the courage to stand up for Britain’s place in Europe, this situation will continue.

I am a fierce pro-European; but I’m also a democrat. Brexit breaks my heart, but to plainly ignore the referendum result (without a second vote) would be an affront to democracy, and would worsen the distrust of politicians that led us here in the first place. In my mind, Britain belongs at the heart of the EU; but I’m not the only person on this island, and the government must ensure that everybody gets a say. For the moment, single market membership is the way forward; but we’ll never stop believing in the EU, or Britain’s place within it.

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