Agri food sector needs unfettered access to UK
Downing on politics
Published 14/09/2016 | 02:30
A flying visit to England just days ago helped me reduce the complex Brexit tale to two big themes which conflict with one another.
Drive the English motorways for an hour and you see the non-stop torrent of huge trucks, from every corner of Britain and Europe, carrying the widest diversity of products. A little later, walk the main streets of a strong market town and you see people of every skin colour, speaking in a plethora of languages other than English.
This is a thumbnail sketch of the clashing themes of Brexit: continued access to trade versus demands for immigration control.
Britain is the sixth largest economy in the world and its wealth has always been focused on trade. In a post-Brexit world the London government ideally wants to keep full access to the EU's single market of 440 million people in 27 other countries.
But the vote to quit the European Union on June 23 last was a gut decision by a huge swathe of mainly English people trying to "take back control." Migration, and the need to curb it, was a big emotional theme in that most visceral of decisions.
The big puzzler in the upcoming negotiations on framing a new set of relationships between the United Kingdom and the European Union turns on trying to reconcile what presents at the start of negotiations as irreconcilable.
Britain, and those others among the remaining 27 states which are sympathetic to the idea of keeping maximum trade links, could make headway on the economic realities of the need to optimise trade. But even those sympathetic to Britain acknowledge that free movement of people within the EU is a fundamental and inviolate issue.
EU governments, less sympathetic to Britain's 43-year indecision on whether they want in or out, are holding a trump card here. And London has very limited wriggle room as opinion polls continue to show immigration control is still a hot political topic.