Richard North, 22/01/2018  

Yesterday may be remembered as the day when Andrew Marr interviewed French President Emanuel Macron.

Somehow, I doubt it because, in the general scheme of things, Marr is such a political lightweight that very little he does makes much of a mark. Nevertheless, it was interesting to have him host the French President chewing up words and confusing the issues on Brexit even more than they are already.

One such area of confusion is the supposed "deep relationship" that the Mrs May want to have with the EU, which Marr suggests "can't be that deep" if the UK is not going to be a member of the customs union or the single market, or accept the four freedoms.

Clearly schooled in the art of vague-speak to which politicians resort when they have to make speech-like sounds but don't actually want to say anything, Macron resorted to a statement of the bleedin' obvious, playing back the same concepts to Marr.

By definition, he said, the relationship will be "less deep than today". The deepest possible relationship is being a member of the European Union. But he then adds: "As you decided to leave you cannot be part of the single market".

Now this is confusing because he goes on to say that "you can have some deeper relations and some others". For instance, he says, "we have a deeper relation with Norway than the – the one we have with Canada". So it depends on the outcome of the Brexit negotiation but, unless you change your mind, you will not be part of the single market because you will not be part of the European Union.

Addressed to someone like Andrew Marr, who already has a slender grasp of the basics – to say nothing of the body politic in general - this sort of confusion, where he elides membership of the EU and the Single Market, can be fatal.

Certainly, the French President seems to contradict what he was saying last week in the aftermath of the Anglo-French summit at Sandhurst. From this, Booker recorded saying that there are only two ways in which we could retain full access to the single market: either by staying in the EU or by choosing the "Norway option".

Of course, says Booker, he is right that the only way, on leaving the EU, we could maintain "frictionless" access to our largest export market would be to join Norway in the Efta and remain in the wider EEA.

At that juncture, Booker was able to opine that those who say that staying in the EEA would be no different from remaining in the EU only show they have no idea what they are talking about.

This would immediately exempt us from having to obey three-quarters of the EU's 20,000 laws. The only ones we would still have to comply with are those 5,000-odd dealing with trade, which guarantee "frictionless" access to the single market.

Booker then adds what is well known to readers, that 80 percent of these Single Market laws now originate from global bodies above Brussels, all of which we will have to continue complying with anyway.

Thus, as Macron also emphasised in his post-~Sandhurst press conference, any other "Canada-type" trade deal we may hope to agree with the EU can only be a very damaging second-best, leaving us with problems it will be all but impossible to resolve.

Booker suggests that if, in 2016, the British people had been given a properly explained choice between staying in the EEA, thus at a stroke sparing us from so many of those problems, and any alternative now likely to be on offer, there can be no doubt which they would have opted for.

But the trouble is that our politicians – and not just UK politicians – and our media simply cannot themselves decide what is on offer and what we are supposed to be choosing. And especially when it comes to the Single Market, they are all over the place.

That much was doubly evident when Marr came to interview John McDonnell, Labour's shadow chancellor, picking up on the Macron interview. Marr in fact suggested that the French President has brought up "again and again" the so-called four freedoms and the single market. Yet, when it came to the "freedoms" he only mentioned them five times.

Nevertheless, while Macron agreed that "you can have Canada of you can have Norway", he went on to say that, "you should understand that you cannot, by definition, have the full access to the single market if you don't tick the box". And to get full access to the single market "you need contribution to the budget, and you have to accept the freedoms, and the four pillars, and you have to accept the jurisdiction (of the ECJ).

Then said Macron: "As soon as you decide not to join this – these preconditions it's not a full access. So it's something perhaps between this full access and a trade agreement. But what's important is not to make people think or believe that it's possible to have … with the phrase "your cake and eat it" inserted by Marr.

Dipping into this confused message, Marr addressed McDonnell, noting that Jeremy Corbyn had said repeatedly that you cannot be a member of the Single Market once you've left the EU. What then, he asked, is Norway in that sense?

Sowing confusion, McDonnell replied that Norway has access to the Single market, but it's not a full member in the sense it's a decision maker. It's a rule taker rather than a rule maker.

Marr thus asks: "So when people say can we be a member of the Single Market, we could be a member of the single market so long as we agree that we won't be making laws?", following which we get this exchange:
JM: You can have access to the Single Market.
AM: So we could be effectively members of the Single Market?
JM: No, you’ll have access but you'll not be a decision maker when it comes to the rules, and that's quite important.
AM: Because Owen Smith, who's one of your Shadow Cabinet Ministers, totally disagrees with this. He says he finds these comments, "slightly puzzling because it's clearly impossible for us to be outside the EU and inside the Single Market, as is Norway and other countries". Is the wrong about that?
JM: It means access to the single market, that's what it means. But the distinguishing factor is that you will not be a decision maker. You will be not a party to make the decisions.
AM: So to that extent it’s a semantic difference and an obvious one in a sense. JM: Well, it is quite important because there's a distinction between having access and then being a member where you are determining the rules in the future. That is quite significant.
AM: So in the circumstance of you being able to negotiate this, would you like us to be in effect part of the Single Market? We're leaving the EU, but you know, really, really close, accepting the four freedoms, paying in and so forth.
JM: What we've been saying is that we would like the benefits of the Single Market.
AM: But we have to give something back for that.
JM: Well it does and that's subject to negotiation. On the four freedoms you know that immigration was an issue in the referendum campaign and I think there's a way in which we can negotiate around that which would be acceptable to our European partners as well, so you see reform of the single market itself, so would not be the same single market but would be access to a single market.
AM: That would involve meaning a certain amount of free movement, it would involve meaning paying in and it would involve certainly copying a lot of their directives.
JM: All these issues are subject to negotiation but on freedom of movement we've always said we wanted reform anyway because we do not accept the exploitative of employment practices that have been taken place in the past and forced down wages, etc. We want protections. But it's interesting, so do other European countries as well. In terms of decision making of course we want to be part of some of the decision making, but that's about equivalence rules as well.
If we are dealing with semantics, though, it seems Stephen Kinnock also wants to play that game. Macron, he says (on Twitter) is "absolutely right". Norway is not in Single Market. It is in EEA – there are significant differences between the Single Market and the EEA.

Wearily though, we have to remind the likes of Mr Kinnock that the EEA was a mechanism to allow Efta states to join the Single Market without buying into political union. And, to compensate for no EU-level voting rights, Efta states got Safeguard Measures.

Then, as Booker points out, Efta states have access to the global organisations where 80 percent or more of the Single Market rules are framed, giving them powerful representation and the ability to shape the rules before they get near the European Union.

What we learn from this weekend, therefore – even if it does just reinforce what we already know – is that we are nowhere near having a coherent public debate on Brexit. Each time the politicians open their mouths, they layer confusion upon confusion, which is then amplified by the media.

And if that is all we have to show since the referendum, it begins to look as if the prospect of a coherent debate is a forlorn hope. It is proving beyond the powers of politicians and media to deliver.

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