For months there has been much debate about what ‘Brexit means Brexit’ actually means. This week Theresa May has made clear Brexit means ‘hard’ Brexit, which in turn means there will be disastrous consequences for our jobs and economy.
The prime minister’s speech at her party conference was simply a long-winded way of her telling the world she is prioritising controlling immigration over her country’s economy.
The prime minister wants to have her cake and eat it. She claims the United Kingdom can have maximum freedom to trade but be exempt from obeying the rules which come with this privilege. May should tell the truth: there is no magical middle ground. We cannot have the equivalent of full access to the single market without accepting freedom of movement and to tell the public we can is not wishful thinking, but an outright lie.
I have always said the heart of the European Union’s and the UK’s competitiveness lies in the single market and, since the vote to ‘Leave’, I have maintained that continued access to it should be the UK’s main priority in the negotiations.
The damning statistics from the Fraser of Allander Institute this week show hard Brexit would see the Scottish economy decline by five per cent, resulting in the loss of 80,000 jobs and seeing wages fall by £2,000 a head per year. Even their most optimistic forecasts based on the UK joining the European Economic Area would see the loss of 30,000 jobs and a loss of £5bn from the economy within a decade.
And it is important to note Scotland’s economy already runs a substantial £15bn deficit. Yet, as expected, the Nationalists are using the result of the EU referendum to stoke grievance and call for another independence referendum. Scotland stands to lose its place in both our unions thanks to the Tories’ reckless Brexit gamble.
The Tories have gambled away our country’s future in a bid to end the civil war within their own party. But May’s new hardline stance on Brexit is ruffling feathers within her own party once again. Yet where is the Labour party? We need to have a voice and make sure it is heard because as things stand Scots are stuck between two brands of divisive nationalism.
Going forward, it is not only the current tariff-free deal we will lose access to, but also our piece of the pie of the developing digital single market. I believe it is imperative for us to have a fully integrated digital single market if we want to remain competitive with the likes of China and the United States.
Just last year the European parliament estimated an additional €415bn could be added to EU GDP from a functioning digital single market, creating and additional 3.8 million new jobs in the process. In times when many EU countries face high unemployment rates, especially among the 18-to-25-year-olds, this is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss out on.
If May and her Tory party truly want a country which works for everyone, they will drop their plans for a hard Brexit and embrace the single market and the benefits it brings to Britain.
Catherine Stihler MEP is vice-chair of the European parliament committee on internal market and consumer protection. She tweets @C_Stihler_MEP
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