Rejoining the EU Now Impossible

BY EFFIE DEANS

Britain has left the EU with a deal. We will continue to trade freely with the EU. There will be no tariffs or quotas. But we will not have to follow EU laws or regulations. We will not be part of the Single Market and we will not be part of the Customs Union. We will be able to trade freely with anyone else we please. So, we will have the best of both worlds – free trade with the EU and free trade with anyone else we can make a deal with.

The price of the deal looks to be minimal. There will be a transition period on fishing so that EU boats will have an extra five years access to our waters. But five years from now when we have had a chance to build up our fleet, we will be catching much more fish than we do at present. There will be many more people in coastal towns employed to catch fish. EU access for a few years is a price worth paying because we lack the fleet to take advantage of completely blocking the EU from our waters in any case. The trade deal with the EU will be worth far more to the British economy than the hypothetical loss of fish that we could not catch anyway.

A little over a year ago it looked as if Brexit might be turned into Brexit in name only (BRINO) or alternatively there might have been a second referendum resulting in a repentant Britain returning to the EU like the Prodigal Son. But no – this is the real deal. This is as close to a complete Brexit as we could have dreamed of in May 2016 and much more than I ever expected. The Remain argument has been smashed, because now it becomes a Rejoin argument. What would Rejoin mean?

1. Britain would have to sign up to join the Euro.

2. We would have to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). Look up Black Wednesday 1992 if you are too young to remember.

3. We would have to join Schengen which would mean there would be no border controls at all between Britain and France. The people in the camps could just get on the Eurostar. Anyone who could get into the EU could get into Britain without even being checked.

4. We would have to pay the EU membership fee without the rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher.

5. We would have to renounce any trade deal we made with USA, Australia, New Zealand or anyone else.

6. We would have to sign up again to the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy, giving up control over our agriculture and fish.

7. We would have to reapply EU law and accept that EU law was supreme.

8. We would have to sign up to the EU’s Covid bailout fund and any future bailout fund to take care of those EU economies that have been wrecked in the past decade and more.

9. We would have to give back all the powers that we have received because of Brexit.

10. We would have to accept that Britain would eventually become a region in a United Europe. The EU would never allow Britain to rejoin in a half in half out fashion.

At the next election neither Labour nor the Lib Dems will campaign for Rejoin. It’s one thing to argue for Remain, but that argument is now gone. Britain could not expect to go back to where we were in 2016, just to cause trouble again. All the opt outs and dragging our feet about European integration would have to be jettisoned. We’d have to be fully on board the EU project if we wanted to rejoin. We’d have to be good Europeans rather than troublemakers. But here is where it gets interesting. So too would Scotland.

The SNP may well continue to campaign to rejoin the EU, but this will as always miss the point that Scotland never was a member state. Scotland was merely part of a member state and now that Britain has left, it would have to apply from scratch.

Only independent sovereign nation states can join the EU. Scotland would become such only after it achieved independence. Voting to leave the UK no more means you have left than voting for Brexit meant we had left the EU in 2016. Only after the divorce negotiations with the UK were completed would Scotland be able to begin to apply to join the EU. But this means that an independent Scotland would have to start life both outside the UK and outside the EU.

But in Quebec terms Scottish nationalists are sovereigntists. The whole SNP argument is about re-establishing Scottish sovereignty. It’s all about Scottish voters voting SNP or Labour and getting Tories instead and about the SNP’s desire that Scottish Parliament should decide everything rather than Westminster.

But this is the whole contradiction of the SNP argument. They are using both Leave and Remain arguments. They are both sovereigntists with regard to the UK and sovereignty sharers with regard to the EU. The SNP want to re-establish Scottish sovereignty only to almost immediately pool and share it with other EU member states. But this fundamentally doesn’t make sense. It amounts to London bad, Brussels good. But this is mere prejudice.

The EU looks suspiciously on separatist movements in the EU not merely because they would destabilise member states and potentially the EU too, but because such movements are contrary to the whole goal of the EU of ever closer union. If Catalonia cannot bear to be part of Spain how can it logically bear to be part of the EU that includes people very different from Catalans and indeed Spaniards? If living with people who are similar to Scots turns out to be impossible, how can the EU expect Scots to live with people who are dissimilar? If Scotland cannot manage to be in a union of four how could it manage to be in a union of nearly thirty? 

The SNP cannot be good Europeans, because they cannot even endure to be Brits. But this means that Scotland would begin its journey towards the EU with a question mark against it. Can the Scots put aside historical grievance to be good Europeans and accept the majority will in the EU? Prima facie it would be reasonable to suppose that Scotland could not, because the reason we wanted independence was we couldn’t accept the majority will in the UK.

The SNP would therefore have to convince the EU not merely that it wants to join, but that it wants to take part fully. So, there could be no promising to join the Euro with crossed fingers nor could we seek to avoid Schengen. To suggest that we could, would be to suppose that the SNP were Brexiteers in sheep’s clothing.  The SNP would have to sign up to European federalism or go elsewhere.

The rejoin argument is so bad that Labour and the Lib Dems won’t dare to campaign for it. But the apply from scratch argument is even worse for the SNP. As it becomes clearer that decisions previously taken in Brussels will now be taken either in Westminster or the devolved parliaments it will also become clear that Scottish independence involves losing power. Worse still an independent Scotland would not have the trade deal that the UK has just negotiated with the EU, it’s the UK’s deal not Scotland’s, nor would it necessarily have a trade deal with the UK and any deal the UK negotiated with the USA or anyone else would no longer apply to an independent Scotland, because it would be the UK’s deal not Scotland’s. 

But worst of all Scotland could not expect to have free movement within the EU and within the former UK too, that would be ultimate form of having your cake and eating it too. The consequence of allowing free movement from the EU into Scotland would be to prevent Scots living and working in the former UK. It would be discriminatory for the former UK to treat the citizens of one member state (Scotland) in a preferential way to the citizens of any other EU member state.

There were some good arguments in favour of leaving the EU without deal. It would have made Scottish independence even harder to achieve. But the main argument against is that it would have given Sturgeon a grievance with which to persuade disappointed Scottish Remainers to vote for independence. Now she is left complaining about seed potatoes. If we can trade freely with the EU, what’s the problem?

Trade with the EU will go on as normal and the price we pay for it will be minimal. It is impossible to imagine now that the UK will now Rejoin the EU, but the logic of that argument applies equally to Scotland.

The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.