On 24 June 2016, it was announced that the people of the UK voted in a referendum for the UK to leave the EU. But this decision, in stead of being implemented by the UK Government in a straight‐forward way, has given rise to a controversy among politicians and journalists about what “leaving the EU” means. And they are talking about “hard” and “soft” Brexits.
To any grown‐up straight‐thinking person it is clear that “leaving the EU” cannot mean anything else than “end of the UK membership of the European Union”. But politicians and the Media call this “hard Brexit”. While “leaving the EU and having full access to the Single Market” they call “soft Brexit”.
The word “hard” sounds harsh and cruel, while the word “soft” sounds tender and comfortable, and those who argued for the UK to stay in the EU before the referendum are calling on the government to deliver “Soft Brexit”, that is retaining the “access to the Single Market”.
But what is the Single Market, and is it possible to leave the EU and have full access to it?
To most people the word “market” suggests, if not a city square with rows of market stalls, then at least some place, like a Stock Exchange, where people sell and buy goods. And from this they conclude that to continue trading with the EU the UK government must “negotiate soft Brexit” to retain “full access to the EU Single Market”.
But, if to look at what is understood by “Single Market” by the EU European Commission, we shall see the following description of “Single Market”:
The Single Market refers to the EU as one territory without any internal borders or other regulatory obstacles to the free movement of goods and services. A functioning Single Market stimulates competition and trade, improves efficiency, raises quality, and helps cut prices. The European Single Market is one of the EU's greatest achievements. It has fuelled economic growth and made the everyday life of European businesses and consumers easier.
Thus the EU Single Market is not a place where goods are bought and sold, but an EU project to remove any obstacle to movement of goods and services that exist between the EU member states. This project is inseparable from full membership of the EU and a state non‐member of the EU cannot participate in this project.
So, if it is impossible for a non‐EU‐member state to take part in the EU Single Market Project, then the idea of a “soft Brexit”, that is, of UK leaving the EU and retaining “full access to the EU Single Market” is just one of those figments of political imagination, in which politicians and journalists use words for their suggestive emotional effect without understanding their real‐life meaning.
And this is why, when UK politicians talk about “full access to the Single Market”, the EU politicians, and those who understand what “EU Single Market” really means, say: “They do not know what they want. They want to leave the EU and stay in the EU at the same time. They want to have their cake and eat it”.
Not having “full access to the EU Single Market” does not mean that people or companies in non‐EU‐member states cannot sell goods to people or companies inside the EU. They have been doing it all along. And it is possible for non‐EU‐member states to agree with the EU trading terms which will make the trade as free as practically possible, without having access to the EU Single Market project.
The EU has more reasons to have free trade with the UK than the UK with the EU because the EU exports to the UK exceed its imports from the UK:
Once the UK is out of the EU it will be able trade with the EU, but those activities which are part of the EU Single Market project, and which are inseparable from EU membership, will not be longer possible for the UK once it leaves the EU.
This is one of the costs of leaving the EU, and this needs to be accepted, because “one cannot have one's cake and eat it at the same time”.
The People of the UK have decided by a majority vote to leave the EU. This was not a UK Government decision. The UK Government has duty to implement the Will of the People.
This decision has its costs, as all decisions of such magnitude inevitably have. One needs to accept such costs in a grown‐up way, and not behave as a whimsical child crying over that proverbial cake.
The cake is eaten, and no crying over it will bring it back.
There are no “hard” and “soft” brexits. There is only one way of leaving the EU:
For more articles to make sense of Brexit see:
Who Should Have Say in the Brexit Negotiations
Sample Notice to Terminate Membership of the EU
The Earliest Date of the UK Leaving the EU
Brexit Deal and the Life After
Brexit Mess — How to Sort It Out
Brexit Uncertainties and How to Remove Them
The Practical Consequences of UK Leaving the EU