Richard North, 11/10/2016  

"We will seek to get the most open, barrier-free market that we can", said David Davis in the debate on yesterday's Commons statement. "That will be as good as a single market".

Needless to say, the only thing as "good" as the Single Market is the Single Market, but then Mr Davis didn't say "the". He said "a" – which is altogether a different thing.

Small wonder, according to the Independent, that British diplomats are urging European business leaders to ignore statements coming from senior UK government ministers on Brexit, relying only on statements issued by the cabinet committee, chaired by the Prime Minister. Those are the only ones to reflect the official UK policy.

That, of course, puts Fox, Johnson and Davis beyond the pale – and rightly so. But when it comes to the MPs as a whole, Matt once again gets it deliciously right, his female character telling her husband, "MPs should not have a say. They don't understand the complex issues and they vote for the wrong reasons".

From the responses in yesterday's exchanges, one didn't get the impression that there was even one MP in the House who demonstrated a grasp of the issues beyond kindergarten level, with nothing which would, in any way indicate an understanding of the nature of the Single Market.

The EU itself doesn't particularly help on this. On the Europa website, the definition refers to the Single Market as "one territory without any internal borders or other regulatory obstacles to the free movement of goods and services".

That, actually, is quite misleading, as the "one territory" implies a contiguous bloc, whereas from Greece to Iceland, and Scotland to Spain, there are multiple territories and, between some of them, quite distinct borders (as between Norway and Sweden, for instance).

The defining characteristic of the Single Market, though, is not territory, per se, so much as a group of nations which agree to be bound by a common regulatory code, with respect to trade and related matters. It is, in fact, a regulatory union, the benefit of which is that enterprises within its members are permitted to trade freely across borders with a minimum of restrictions.

Non members can, of course, trade with the group, but there is always a price to pay – either in tariffs or entry controls. The exact price varies, nation to nation, depending on the deal negotiated and the concessions agreed. But none of the deals – not a single one – gives exactly the same degree of freedom as full-blown members.

From this two crucial points emerge. Firstly, the degree of unrestricted trade must be negotiated. Secondly, whatever is agreed, short of full membership of the Single Market, the there will be more restrictions and controls than there are now.

Therein rests the crucial issue. As has so often been pointed out, the possibility of concluding a deal, de novo, to bring restrictions down to a tolerable level, within the two years afforded by Article 50 - on top of all the other issues that have to be settled - is precisely nil.

If, therefore, the Government was determined to finalise arrangements within the two year period, it is going to have to accept substantial layers of controls and restrictions of goods which, currently, are not borne by exporters. Some sectors are going to be more badly hit than others but almost all will be affected to some extent or another. And there will be an economic price to pay.

This is the reality – the inescapable reality that Government is going to confront. It either takes an interim deal, along the lines of EEA participation – with all that that entails, or it takes an economic hit. There are no other options on the table.

Yet here we are now, with MPs mouthing about wanting to have a say in the approval of the Government's negotiating stance. Says Anna Soubry, "We do want Parliament to debate… most notably whether we remain in the single market", telling the Today programme that there was a "grave danger" of the government drawing its own conclusions from the result of the referendum about the type of future relationship that Britons wanted with the EU.

While Sir Keir Starmer, Labour's new shadow Brexit minister, complains that the Government is "sidelining" Parliament, one might observe that it is sidelining itself. When you listen to them talk, there is not one that you would trust. Daily, we get better debates on the comments to this blog than we get in the House of Commons.

Lest we also forget, it has been Parliament which has approved every Community treaty put before it and, even to date, the majority in the House favour continued membership of the EU. We had no reason in the past to trust Parliament, and nothing any of the MPs currently has to offer suggests that we should trust them now.

They will get their say at the end of the process, when the Article 50 process has to be approved by Parliament, and they will have another chance if a secession treaty is agreed. Parliament will have to ratify that.

In the meantime, the less we hear from Parliament the better. An effective democratic institution requires of its members knowledge and understanding. Neither is present in the House in any abundance, so we have no need of another band of ignorati, second-guessing the decision of the people.

The MPs can line up in the lobbies, some time in 2019 and as long as they do as they are told – as they tend to do – we will be out of the European Union. Until then, they are not wanted on voyage.

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