There was rather too much ‘shock-and-horror’ reaction to a recent interview with Sajid Javid, the UK chancellor, who merely said that Britain could diverge from European Union rules after Brexit. ‘There will not be alignment, we will not be a rule-taker, we will not be in the Single Market and we will not be in the Customs Union – and we will do this by the end of the year.’ Businesses, he suggested, should get on with adapting to these unfamiliar circumstances.
The ‘surprise’ shown by business organisations seemed a tad overdone. What did they, or anyone else following developments since the 2016 referendum, expect? That Britain would forever remain a rule-taker from the European Commission? The truculent reaction to what Javid said is not credible from those with even a rudimentary grasp of the meaning of sovereignty: a nation deciding its own laws and regulations.
Countries do not often adopt fully aligned, identical rules to others in order to trade with them. For instance, the Chinese and the Americans today export a lot to customers in the EU without aligning to Single Market rules. Indeed, the recognition of regulatory ‘equivalence’ – rather than exact congruence – has become a common practice in postwar economic relations. Countries accept the flow of products and services that accord with regulations established by others as long as regulatory goals are shared. This is what is meant by ‘outcome-based equivalence’.
Why should any future UK-EU deal be different in this respect to the hundreds of other trade agreements between sovereign nations? A reason for doubt could be the European Commission’s desire to ‘have its cake and eat it’. It appears that some EU politicians want to treat Britain as a ‘third country’ but also want to retain control over Britain’s rules and regulations, as if it were still a member state. Javid was simply reminding the world that the General Election mandate prevents the British government from going along with such a half-in, half-out position.
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