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Jeremy Corbyn's speech fails Keir Starmer's six tests
26 Feb, 2018

Fantasy Brexits from both main parties

Labour’s Brexit policy fails its own tests as it is based on undeliverable have-your-cake-and-eat-it fantasy. Labour supporters need to draw the right conclusion: Labour is for Brexit come what may. Campaigning must focus on trying to persuade Labour to provide for a referendum on the terms. London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg writes.

On 27 March 2017 Keir Starmer set out six tests for Brexit.

Five of the six tests for the Government’s Brexit deal are vague

(1) “Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?”

(3) “Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?”

(4) “Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?”

(5) “Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?”

(6) “Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?”

These are not tests in the sense of something that can be objectively assessed as points against a set pass mark. There is for sure explanatory text in Keir Starmer’s speech. But Labour will be able to say that the tests have or have not been met almost at will, depending on the overall stance that Labour wish to take on Brexit.

One test the Government’s Brexit will fail

However, there is one test that we can say now will not be passed:

(2) “Does it deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?”

The latest Government fantasy Brexit that tries to obtain single market benefits without obligations - with different regulatory and deregulatory baskets for different elements of the relationship with the EU - was immediately rejected by Donald Tusk as being based on “pure illusion”.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit fails it too

Jeremy Corbyn’s important 26 February 2018 speech was the chance for the Opposition to set out an alternative vision for Brexit. But it too is a fantasy Brexit that cannot pass Keir Starmer’s test.

Jeremy Corbyn is fully committed to ending freedom of movement

To be clear, he is pursuing a hard Brexit that prioritises immigration control: “Our immigration system will change and freedom of movement will as a statement of fact end when we leave the European Union.”

He does say many warm words about immigrants. There will not be bogus targets. There are sensible policies on skills training. But there will not be freedom of movement.

We know that the EU is serious about the linkage of the four freedoms. So the nature of Brexit follows from Jeremy Corbyn’s prioritisation of immigration control. It will not be a Brexit with the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union.

A fantasy Brexit

In spite of rejecting freedom of movement, “Labour would seek a final deal that gives full access to European markets and maintains the benefits of the single market and the customs union … with no new impediments to trade and no reduction in rights, standards and protections.” Also “Labour would negotiate a new and strong relationship with the single market that includes full tariff-free access and a floor under existing rights, standards and protections.”

“Access” of course is the word Brexiters use to mislead. Everyone has access to the Single Market. It just means you trade with it. EU countries have membership. We have all the rights – and obligations – of club members. Only if you are a member can you maintain all the benefits. Most obviously only members are in the room when decisions are made.

Nor is that the only bit of Brexit fantasy. It seems that Jeremy Corbyn wishes that instead of being invisible in the referendum campaign he had been on that big red bus with £350m painted on the side: “And we will use funds returned from Brussels after Brexit to invest in our public services and the jobs of the future”. He does not seem to believe the reports that show that Brexit – any Brexit – means slower growth and less money for public services compared to Remaining.

A fantasy customs deal

There is a real difference between the Government and the Opposition. Corbyn would take the UK into a Customs Union after Brexit. But in keeping with the rest of his speech it is a fantasy Customs Union: “But we are also clear that the option of a new UK customs union with the EU would need to ensure the UK has a say in future trade deals. A new customs arrangement would depend on Britain being able to negotiate agreement of new trade deals in our national interest. Labour would not countenance a deal that left Britain as a passive recipient of rules decided elsewhere by others. That would mean ending up as mere rule takers.”

Well that rules out a real-life customs union then. Turkey is the main country that has a customs agreement with the EU. It gets consulted but hardly has much of a say. It has to offer tariff-free access to the countries that the EU signs deals with but does not get tariff-free access to them unless it signs a separate deal (while having nothing to offer in return). And it may not run its own commercial policy in areas covered by its agreement with the EU.

Anyway, a Customs Union on its own does little or nothing to solve problems like the Irish Border or services exports.

Conclusion

With both Government and Opposition committed to fantasy Brexits we are in practice no further forward than the various Brexits promised by the Leave campaign – all good things and no problems – in the first half of 2016.

Implications for Campaigners

First, Labour is a Brexit party. Their messaging has obscured the fact. Half of Labour-voting students think that Labour is for Remain. Surely they will now realise the truth. Labour will have to face the consequences.

Second, Labour is a Brexit party because Labour Remainers don’t really mind. For as long as Labour party supporters prioritise the election of a Labour government over Remaining in the EU Labour will continue to appease Labour Leave and the party's anti-EU anti-immigration minority.

Moreover, Labour is not being upfront about its reasons for wishing to leave the EU. In spite of the claim that it would be necessary – “whether in or out of the EU” – to “… negotiate protections … in relation to privatisation and public service competition directives state aid and procurement rules and the posted workers directive.“ there was nothing in the speech – other than immigration control – that required the UK to leave the EU. Open Britain has comprehensively debunked the idea of Lexit (you can also read Labour Leave’s rebuttal). Voters who choose Labour to obtain Scandinavian welfare or German skills training are going to be surprised.

And so the conclusion for our campaigning is clear. Asking Labour to come out for Remain or even for an honest assessment of the hard choices and costs of Brexit is over-ambitious. We should focus on urging Labour to support a referendum on the terms. That is popular with Labour voters. It would allow Labour to be neutral – that is, for individuals to choose which side to support, as in 1975. And it would provide the party with an insurance policy against the reality of Brexit being unpopular compared with the Brexit fantasies promised.

 

 

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