“Brexit means Brexit” has been Theresa May’s mantra over the summer.
As a slogan it is completely meaningless, we would not accept an Education Secretary saying that “teaching means teaching” or the Home Secretary saying that “policing means policing”. I have been clear about my position that there should be another vote on the final terms of the deal. But, if we are going to limit the damage of leaving the EU, then we need a clear plan and we need to be clear about what we want and how we are going to get it. Although it has become clear Brexit does not mean there will £350 million a week extra for the NHS.
Theresa May has previously said that we were not going to get an “off the shelf deal” and that we should not be talking about “the Norwegian model, or the Swiss model” but a special British deal. Well, we already had that and it was rejected by the voting public. The Prime Minister needs to remember that she cannot just make demands and expect the EU to accept them all, there has to be some give and take. So actually looking at Norway and Switzerland can tell us a lot about what the EU is prepared to accept. Norway pays into the EU budget (more per head than the UK does), accepts the rules of the Single Market and allows the free movement of people.
The key choice in the negotiations will be whether the Prime Minister will be willing to keep the free movement of people (at least in principle) as the price for retaining full access to the Single Market. If she is not, then losing access to the Single Market is inevitable with all of the consequences that the Labour Party and major economic institutes have warned of.
The Centre for European Reform has pointed out that if we leave the Single Market the price of food could increase by 15% and even Vote Leave’s pet economist Patrick Minford said that the best case scenario outside of the Single Market would see Welsh manufacturing decimated. Whether we’re ready to pay these consequences is the national conversation we need to be having. One that will not be helped if the Government keeps to its refusal to keep the British Parliament properly updated on the negotiations on top of its refusal to give the representatives of the British people a say on the final deal.
The Government also needs to confirm that EU citizens who have already arrived will not be deported. They staff our NHS, pay their taxes and are less likely to use healthcare than UK citizens in the EU. The EU is not about to kick out UK citizens. Therefore, let’s be adults and get these negotiations off on the right foot by confirming that those EU citizens already here can stay. Pointless posturing won’t get us anywhere. The Prime Minister could relieve a lot of fears for families right across Wales. We can’t be saying to kids right across the country that Mum or Dad is about to be deported because some negotiation in Brussels did not quite work out. I found it deeply distasteful when Lord Pearson, a UKIP representative, suggested using EU citizens as “hostages”.
We can have a conversation about immigration without such revolting suggestions and removing that possibility would send the right signal about what Brexit actually means.