Common Market 2.0 is the solution to our Brexit woes

Fraser Coppin

January 17, 2019

Britain in 1975 was a very different place. Status Quo and Rod Stewart topped the charts, wearing flared trousers was socially acceptable, and perhaps most shockingly of all: the public voted for European integration.

Of those who turned out to vote in that referendum, 67 per cent voted to remain in the EEC or the “Common Market” as it was then known. The yes campaign enjoyed cross-party support, with prime minister Harold Wilson and the Conservative party led by Margaret Thatcher both coming out in favour. They argued that the Common Market would help promote economic growth, raise living standards, and preserve peace – and the British public agreed.

But much has changed since 1975.

Britain’s enthusiasm for all things Europe never quite returned to the heights that it did during that first referendum. We didn’t sign the Schengen agreement, we didn’t join the Euro, and ever since the European Union as we know it today came into being, we have been reluctant to embrace it. The Common Market that we had once voted for had gradually transformed into something very different: a political union, complete with its own parliament, bureaucrats and courts which superseded our own.  

As Eurosceptic politicians began to rise in popularity, and the 2008 financial crash hit working people hard, many Brits began to wonder what the point of it all was. This increasing disconnect, of course, led to the 2016 referendum in which 17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union.

But our government has utterly failed to implement Brexit, and many of our MPs are ideological fanatics committed to either crashing out of the EU no matter what, or ignoring the result entirely. Never in British history have our parliamentarians been so utterly out of touch with the ordinary people that they serve.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. A better Brexit is possible, and Common Market 2.0 can deliver it.

This is a Brexit plan that respects the referendum result, protects the jobs and livelihoods of our citizens, and offers us the chance to finally reunite our divided country. Unlike May’s deal, this plan has widespread support across parliament, including from Nick Boles, Stephen Kinnock, and the DUP.

By leaving the EU but continuing our membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) and rejoining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the UK would enjoy a close relationship with our neighbours, yet we would become a proud and independent nation. This arrangement already works well for Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein, and it would work well for us too.

With Common Market 2.0, we would have frictionless trade with the EU, providing peace of mind to businesses and to the hundreds of workers whose jobs currently hang in the balance. Staying in the single market would give British firms tariff-free access to our largest trading partners, and this coupled with a new customs arrangement would eliminate the need for extra checks at Dover and on the Irish border. And while we would lose our seats in the European parliament, we would maintain considerable influence over new single market legalisation as part of the EFTA.

Common Market 2.0 also delivers on Brexit. We would be free from the intrusive common agricultural and fisheries policies, we would no longer have to follow the vast majority of EU laws, and we would not have to pay out £39bn of taxpayers’ money for nothing in return. Furthermore, if the EU insists on a further level of integration from its members, which is looking more likely every day, leaving via EFTA would ensure that Britain is exempt from all of this. We would not be in a “United States of Europe”, nor part of a European army – we would simply enjoy free trade and cooperation.

While it is true that staying in the single market does mean that freedom of movement would continue, we would have the option of applying an emergency brake on this at any time (which Liechtenstein has already utilised) and to return those who have not found a job after three months home, both of which we will be able to do under existing EEA rules. So, remaining inside the single market does not mean that we cannot control our borders.

And while a transitional customs arrangement is probably required to prevent the need for the Northern Ireland backstop, in the long term we would also be outside the customs union. We would be able to negotiate new trade deals with other countries around the world, either on our own or alongside the other EFTA countries. We would gain a fully independent seat at the WTO and be free to reduce or eliminate tariffs on the goods that we buy every day.

More to the point, Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement was resoundingly defeated in parliament, meaning that her approach is dead, and there also isn’t a parliamentary majority for holding a general election or for a second referendum (or should that be third?).

We now have only two possible choices: a messy and uncertain “no-deal” exit, which would be a disaster for our economy and would leave us in an even worse negotiating position. Or a sensible EFTA-based deal, which is both achievable in the time frame we have, and something that could command the support of a majority of MPs.

52 per cent of us voted to leave, and 48 per cent of us voted to remain. The only fair way to honour that outcome is to move house but stay in the same neighbourhood. Just ask these high-profile Brexiteers who have long supported a Norway-style approach.

In 1975, the British public overwhelmingly backed the original Common Market. They rejected isolationism and chaos, and embraced free trade and cooperation.

We should do the same, and back Common Market 2.0.


  • Fraser Coppin

    Fraser Coppin is a Liberal Democrat member and an advocate of free trade, enterprise, and individual freedom. He is Policy Lead at Liberal Reform.

Written by Fraser Coppin

Fraser Coppin is a Liberal Democrat member and an advocate of free trade, enterprise, and individual freedom. He is Policy Lead at Liberal Reform.


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