THE ongoing debate about how, when and even if Britain should leave the single market when we depart the EU brings to mind a pivotal moment from the brilliant American drama Breaking Bad.
The show’s central character, chemistry teacher turned drug producer Walter White, is agonising about what to do following a serious falling out with his young partner in crime and former student Jesse Pinkman.
His associate, grizzled ex-cop Mike, gives his take on what Walter’s next move should be by telling the story of how he once threatened to kill a domestic abuser but let him off the hook with a warning – only for the man to murder his partner in a horrific manner two weeks later.
Mike says: “The moral of the story is: I chose a half measure, when I should have gone all the way. I’ll never make that mistake again. No more half measures, Walter.”
Without giving too much away from those who are yet to see the show, it is fair to say that Walter becomes an increasing advocate of the ‘full measure’ strategy advocated by Mike.
I have been thinking of this scene when I hear the arguments being put forward by some politicians demanding that the UK stays in the single market even once we are out of the EU. Attempts have been made to dress this up as a cuddlier, friendlier ‘soft’ Brexit, but let’s call it what it is – a half measure.
There are a huge and complex array of reasons why people voted Leave last year but it is fair to say that having better control of the nation’s destiny, and in particular allowing the country to set its own immigration controls, were decisive factors for millions.
It has been made entirely clear that membership of the single market includes accepting one of its fundamental rules – the free movement of people between member states.
Such a deal would also mean paying into the EU budget and accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, all while now having absolutely no control over the EU’s rules and regulations and whether we accept them as a non-member without a veto.
The logical conclusion is that the half measure of quitting the EU, but staying in the single market, actually represents a worse position for the country than remaining as a full member.
While Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein do have this arrangement, the ‘leaving but not really leaving’ option of staying in the single market really means that years of trade talks, upheaval and rewriting Britain’s laws will essentially be little more than a pointless academic exercise.
How will those who voted for Brexit on the basis they did not like people in Brussels they did not elect having power over them feel if the country ends up in a position where we still have to accept their decisions but are now truly powerless to influence them in any way?
This is a conclusion essentially already reached by both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.
The reality is that leaving the EU is going to an incredibly complex and difficult process with uncertain outcomes.
The hard/soft Brexit debate has not been helped by the disingenuous claims from the likes of Boris Johnson that it is possible to have your cake and eat it; retaining all the positive parts of EU and single market membership and just jettisoning the bits we don’t like.
That is not and never has been realistic. Leading Leave campaigners like Johnson, and Andrea Leadsom, promised the country a pain-free Brexit and a future of ‘sunlit uplands’. But they now owe the country an honest appraisal of the situation – this is going to be difficult, take years and there will be winners and losers, both economically and socially (as there would have been from remaining in the EU), from the massive changes ahead.
As a Remain voter last year, I was desperately disappointed at the outcome of the referendum and still believe on balance that the country would be better off inside the EU, helping to guide its future direction while vetoing the decisions we don’t believe would be in our interest.
But the result must be accepted, while also noting it appears few people on either side of the debate have changed their minds about how they voted last year. A recent Panelbase survey found 52 per cent of the people it spoke to would vote Leave and 48 per cent Remain – an exact replica of how the real thing turned out in 2016.
Like Walter White, drawn into criminal activity after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis and realising he did not have the money to pay for his care or provide for his family, I wish the reality of the situation we find ourselves in was different.
But it is too late to turn back the clock and we have to make the best of how things stand. No half measures.