Catherine Stihler says there’s a lot more to the EU than the single market, and the focus solely on that aspect means we are in danger of losing a whole range of important benefits without even putting up a fight.
Earlier this week the Scottish Parliament debated a Scottish Government motion in support of retaining access to the EU’s Single Market. It said the UK should seek to maintain access but if this were not possible then avenues to allow Scotland to continue accessing the Single Market should be explored.
A common refrain from the Scottish Government goes “Scotland didn’t vote to leave the Single Market”. That is true but it narrows the vote of Scots in June to a single aspect of EU membership. Scottish voters didn’t vote to leave the EU and all that means, including the benefit of being part of an organisation whose market is covers over five hundred million people.
The referendum in June can only be seen as giving us a verdict on the principle of leaving the EU. As there was no plan put to the people, and claims made by those advocating Brexit have been dropped or shown to be demonstrably false, no-one has endorsed Brexit based on what it will actually mean when all is said and done – how could they when we don’t know what it will look like until negotiations are concluded? The invocation of Article 50, which is the subject of a legal wrangle at present, is required to commence the negotiations.
The Single Market is incredibly important to Scotland and the wider UK. If we look at export data for 2014 we see that Scotland shipped £11.6 billion worth of goods to EU countries. That is a large sum for an economy of Scotland’s size and we should attempt to keep the door to this important market open to our businesses.
Many who argued for Brexit said, correctly, that trade would not end if we left the EU or the Single Market. That is to miss the point completely. Trading within the Single Market means lower costs associated with trade: no tariffs, common standards and harmonised regulations mean it doesn’t cost as much to trade and so companies find it easier to tap into new markets.
If you have been following my Brexit Bulletin over the last few weeks you will have noticed quite a portion relating to Nissan and assurances given to the Japanese car manufacturer about the impact of Brexit on trade. The fears of Nissan are not unfounded – if the UK leaves the Single Market Nissan would see prices rise initially through tariffs on their goods, which will limit their access to remaining EU Member States.
In the medium to long term, as UK legislation that affects their sector diverges from EU legislation, there will be a greater administrative burden on exporters such as Nissan. All of these things mean we would see lower trade relative to what we would see if we had full access to the Single Market.
That is the key here: relativity. The UK will still trade as Brexiteers suggested but by introducing tariffs and increasing administrative costs our potential for exporting success is hampered and our relative position is worse than it would be had we stayed in the EU or fully within the Single Market.
The European Union is so much more than the Single Market however, and I fear by focusing so much of our time and effort on the Single Market question we risk jeopardising other aspects of EU membership that could be protected during Brexit negotiations.
Our economic success is not simply predicated on untrammelled access to the largest single market in the world. We have world-class universities and research centres too. It is estimated that for every £1 we spend on universities the economy is boosted to the tune of £6. We mustn’t close the door to the close collaboration we currently have between Member States in matters of higher education and research funding.
Last year we saw a large proposed cut to Horizon 2020 funding in the European Union and I fought alongside my Labour and S&D colleagues to reduce the planned cut and protect hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment in our universities and research institutions. The Scottish and UK Governments either took their eye off the ball or they didn’t care enough to make a strong case for protecting Horizon 2020 funding. I fear both governments may make a similar and more costly mistake during Brexit negotiations.
Opportunities for students and volunteers through ERASMUS+ are something that we must fight to protect. Organisations such as Xchange Scotland do a sterling job at accessing these vital funds in order to open doors to hundreds of Scots. The Scottish Government should be fighting for these kinds of organisations and aiming to secure access to ERASMUS+ and not focussing so much of their time and energy on one aspect of EU membership.
I could go on with a variety of sectors and highlight the importance of the EU to them, such as agriculture, regional development, the environment, workers’ rights and so much more besides, but the point I am keen to make is that we threaten the possibility of protecting the advantages we have in so many areas when we narrow the scope of our argument to just one aspect of EU membership.
We must keep our heads up and our eyes wide open to the threat Brexit poses to a whole host of areas important to our economy and our society. If we fail to fight for all the benefits we risk making Brexit even worse than we could have feared.
If you want to see how the EU benefits a variety of sectors and impacts on our way of life you can find some fact sheets via this link.