Barnier should be more flexible over internal market in negotiations with UK

5 August 2018

Barnier should be more flexible over internal market in negotiations with UK

The European Union's Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, found it necessary in a recently submitted article to remind the British once more that the internal market is one and indivisible. If the UK doesn't accept free movement of persons and of services, then there will be no free movement of goods. There is a reason for this rigidity. Whatever we may hear about a social Europe, the core of the existing form of European integration remains the insistence that there is one market and that this can't be avoided by national action. The Brexit referendum revolved around the questions of free movement of persons and services, rather than trade in goods. Rather than reconsidering matters in the light of these concerns, Barnier is slamming the door in Britain's face. This is a foolish response to the UK, but also to other member states where people have similar concerns.

Barnier is the personification of what European cooperation has stood for since the late 1980s, which is simply to make things easier for big capital so that the European Union becomes an attractive market. The consideration that things can go wrong with this market and that the problems attendant upon this will weigh more heavily in some member states than in others has never played the slightest role. So if the British have had enough of this and that in all sorts of sectors of their economy only people from low income countries are employed, that's tough. But the interests of big capital come first.

Of course there is also the Irish question: a hard border between the Republic and the North would be in contravention of the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to Northern Ireeland's civil war. But an open border between the two, coupled with a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, is going too far for the British government. This is an exceptionally knotty problem which no-one seems to be able to untie, although there is certainly a solution: see the single internal market as a fine goal, certainly when it comes to free movement of goods, but give the member states the freedom for a shorter or longer time to control the market - to suspend the free movement of services in the building trade, for instance, in the event of social dumping or exploitation. If we can abandon rigidity, then a British Remain can't be ruled out, because in that case the concerns of all those people who voted for Brexit would have been taken into account.

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