Richard North, 19/04/2016  

This is what Michael Gove said (part of it) on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning:
Robinson: What will the UK be like if we're outside – what relationship would we have with our closest neighbours and important trading partners?

Gove: We would have a relationship of free trade and friendly cooperation. We would be able to demonstrate that democratic self-government, the model of government that we've had in the past and that other countries like Australia and Canada use to their advantage, can be deployed by us in order to spend money on our priorities and indeed in order to negotiate new trade deals with other countries.

Robinson: Forgive me, I want to pursue your positive vision of what 'out' looks like. So free trade like Canada. Now as you know – just take that example because you mentioned Canada – Canada is forced under its free trade deal … to pay tariffs in its services, to pay tariffs on manufacturing components, to pay tariffs for many farming goods as well. So is that the best you can hope for?

Gove: Absolutely not. One of the things about the different models that different countries have is that it proves that there is no single model that Britain has to accept, which is the currently existing alternative. Look, we'd be part of a free trade area.

It's already the case with the European free trade area that extends from Iceland to the Russian Border. The only country in the European land mass outside that is Belarus. We would be part of that and we would benefit also from being able to take back control of our seat on the World Trade Organisation …

Robinson: Would we be in the Single Market, in the European Single Market?

Gove: We would be part of a free trade zone.

Robinson. We would not be in the European Single Market.

Gove: We would have access to the countries of the Single Market by being in a free trade zone.
I was still struggling with that when I read his speech, and this in particular:
There is a free trade zone stretching from Iceland to Turkey that all European nations have access to, regardless of whether they are in or out of the euro or EU-26 After we vote to leave we will remain in this zone. The suggestion that Bosnia, Serbia, Albania and the Ukraine would remain part of this free trade area - and Britain would be on the outside with just Belarus - is as credible as Jean-Claude Juncker joining UKIP.

Agreeing to maintain this continental free trade zone is the simple course and emphatically in everyone's interests.
Amazingly, the reference cited, giving apparent credibility to this mystical creature is this - a colour map showing EU trading partners. Strangely, one might think, there is absolutely no sign of a European free trade zone. It simply does not exist.

But that, is seems, it Vote Leave's picture of what "out" looks like - a totally mythical construct, through which we would gain access to the Single Market. However, I suppose there's a certain logic to it. If Mr Cameron can get away with a pretend treaty, why shouldn't Gove get away with having a completely fictitious European free trade zone?

This is getting almost like the Telegoons - the sketch where Neddy Seagoon decides to hold up a bank to get some money. He doesn't have a gun so he goes in and waves a colour photograph of a gun at the bank staff. They give him a colour photograph of some money.

We are descending into the depths of the surreal. There is nothing here, any more - nothing real - that we can take seriously. Perhaps we've slipped unknowingly into a parallel universe. 

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