It seems strange that two of the smallest and most commonest words in the English dictionary could cause confusion between interviewer and interviewee but that is what ‘a’ and ‘the’ seemed to do on Sunday when Andrew Marr interviewed James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, on the BBC.
Marr was keen to emphasise ‘a’ single market using the indefinite article. Brokenshire however was only too happy to interpret this as ‘the’ single market using the definite article. The two words are among the most commonest words used in the English language but can have quite different meanings. The indefinite article ‘a’ has non-specific reference and suggests a single market yet to be agreed upon which will have different rules and regulations to the current single market. The definite article ‘the’ however has specific reference and refers to the current single market, the one which currently exist between EU members.
Marr (AM) starts off in 03 by referring to ‘a single market’ but Brokenshire (JB) talks about ‘the single market’ (line 06). Marr picks up on this and clearly signals his intention of referring to the non-specific market by putting stress on the definite article ‘a’ in line 08.
01 AM we both know 02 that what they really want out of this 03 is a single market for goods 04 are they gonna get it 05 JB well we don’t believe in (.) 06 being part of the single market 07 that’s what we will lea:ve 08 AM no I said a single market for goods
Brokenshire however refuses to engage with the concept of ‘a’ single market and instead talks about ‘the’ single market in line 11. Notice how Brokenshire, unlike Marr, never puts special emphasis on the article – he doesn’t want to highlight the fact that they might be two different concepts; it is convenient for him to ignore this.
09 JB well 10 but the point is 11 that if you have the single market 12 with all of the issues that that brings with it 13 in terms of freedom of movement 14 that is precisely what we are leaving 15 and the [Prime Minister being very clear 16 AM [okay
A period of negotiation ensues in which Marr tries to reiterate that he is talking about ‘a’ single market and not ‘the’ single market. Several times he marks the article with special emphasis and even states in line 20 that he ‘dropped the definite pronoun’. (It is the definite article, Mr Marr, not a pronoun! But we will excuse that in the midst of a Sunday-morning tussle with a politician.)
17 JB on getting back [our control of our la:ws 18 AM [but I I I 19 JB [and our our migration 20 AM [I dropped er I dropped the definite pronoun 21 AM I said a single market on goods 22 is that a goer 23 JB well no but the single 24 AM a single a single 25 JB [well no no no I er 26 AM [not the single market 27 a single market on goods
Brokenshire however continues to talk about ‘the’ single market as if it is the only one that could ever exist. Marr ruefully in the end (lines 43-47) comments on why people get frustrated with this small but significant difference, before moving on.
28 JB but but the point is 29 that if you talk about the single market 30 you are talking about those other issues too 31 what we are talking about 32 is an ambitious free trade agreement 33 with our European partners 34 with that 35 lack of er of er a fle- er flexibility 36 to sure that we don’t see 37 a hard border in Northern Ireland 38 that we ensure that we 39 are able to trade internationally 40 and indeed 41 that we have that frictionless trade 42 the Prime Minister has spoken about 43 AM but this is exactly why 44 so many people get frustrated 45 I say a single market 46 you say the 47 and we get very very much tangled up in the words ...
BBC, The Andrew Marr Show, 1st July 2018