Last week I voted against the Government and my own party in the Commons to support Britain retaining membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) if we leave the EU. I want to tell you why.
There are some people who just want us to leave every single part of the EU now, today. Most people, though, accept that we need a good working relationship with them into the future and that means some kind of formal links and agreements.
There’s two things we have to understand about the single market. Firstly, it is essential to the British economy. Half of all our exports go there, and the majority of our service sector exports (a sector which account for 80 per cent of the British economy) goes there.
Secondly, the single market is an organisation that is entirely based on laws, and those laws are upheld by a court. This means it can’t be tinkered with. So when people tell you we can get rid of all the obligations that come with the single market but keep all the benefits, just bear in mind that to do so would mean all remaining 27 countries having to agree to change the law to give Britain perks which they themselves don’t have.
It simply is not going to happen.
That is why the promises made by both parties on the single market are simply not realistic to me. The Tories are promising ‘the exact same benefits’ and Labour are promising ‘no new impediments to trade and common rights’ but we know as fact that neither are possible if we leave the EU entirely.
The EEA is another legal structure that allows access to the single market. It excludes agriculture and fisheries and is a much simpler organisation. It’s not perfect but it has one massive advantage above the promises being made in parliament right now… it actually exists!
By joining it and retaining our membership of the Customs Union, British businesses that export to the EU, or have components that are shipped in from the EU to make things like cars, will all be safe. That is crucial.
It seems to me that too many politicians are standing up and making arguments that suit the needs of their parties right now, but promises that are designed to keep a party together in the course of a week will not keep our economy together once they are tested in the cold reality of negotiations, as the seconds count down to us leaving the EU.
I have said many times that I will never do something that I believe in my heart could damage our community. Last week that led me to vote against my own party but my conscience is clear, because I have looked at this issue in huge detail and come to the conclusion that we are heading into huge and damaging uncertainty and institutions such as the EEA can offer safety to our economy in very troubled times.
Peter Kyle is the Labour MP for Hove.