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January 30, 2017

On the illusion of choice

We noted this comment by Simon Wren-Lewis, an Oxford-based economist, whose latest comment on Brexit is highly revealing of the weakness of the arguments used by Remain supporters. We can understand the frustration of anyone in the UK who thought they were a citizen of the European Union, only to find that this will not be the case any longer. Brexit constitutes a loss of rights - and possibly a loss of geostrategic power and security. The arguments for Remain were, and still are, overwhelming. But whenever we read pro-EU commentaries in the UK, we find a depiction of the EU that we at least do not recognise.

Remain supporters in the UK - in contrast to pro-Europeans elsewhere - have been getting used to menu choices, the right to be in those bits of the EU they benefitted from - the single market for example - and abstain from others like the euro or Schengen. This mindset of choice is still dominant in the debate, as it is in Wren-Lewis' article. He writes, correctly, that the referendum does not stipulate the kind of exit the UK wants. But he is wrong to suggest that the nature of exit is negotiable. The EU itself no longer supports single market membership for the UK. In other words, there is no longer a menu option that is available. 

There was a brief window, right after the referendum, when Remain campaigners had the opportunity to mount a pro-EEA campaign. What killed this in our view was the support by many of them, including Wren-Lewis himself, for a second referendum or other processes that might end up frustrating the entire process. It is not surprising that the British government did not engage with them. We don't know whether a unified position by the Remainers could have prevented the harder version of Brexit, but a position that accepted Brexit in principle, with single market membership, might have had a majority in the House of Commons if a concerted effort had been made.

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