Where would Corbyn, May or Boris take us?
The focus has been on Brexit itself, the trade agreements, something of Britain’s place in the world. But where is Britain headed? London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg looks at where Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May and Boris might take us once freed of the constraints of the EU; it is not encouraging.
People should be judged by their actions, not by what they say about themselves. Both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn could put a stop to Brexit if they wished by honourable means: providing for a referendum on the terms. Neither will. So we should conclude that - in spite of their statements that they would vote Remain in a new referendum - they wish to leave the EU.
Most claims about what we can do after leaving are vacuous or do not require Brexit. We need to focus on what can be done only if we leave the EU. Apart from immigration control we are largely in the dark, but can make some informed guesses. Sure, this is speculation. But to be clear: there is no point in Brexit if we are going to be just like another EU country.
Possibly, Corbyn’s commitment to Brexit is just party political electoral thinking. Support for a Brexit that is just a bit better than Theresa May’s proved a vote winner in 2017 – why not stick with the line if there is an election in 2018?
Claims that Brexit is needed to implement the Labour party manifesto do not stand up to analysis apart from the commitment to end freedom of movement. The EU does not forbid rail nationalisation (Deutsche Bahn, SNCF), though it would not allow a prohibition on private railways. Nor does the EU outlaw state aids to industries. It limits them, but at a so much higher level than the UK is currently using that it is hard to think Corbyn would find the rules a hindrance (Germany offers state aids at almost four times the %age of GDP that the UK does).
I suggest that Jeremy Corbyn is committed to Brexit because when he says he is a socialist, he does not mean that he wishes to see – as his many young supporters do – arrangements like the Scandinavian welfare state, or French healthcare, or German commitment to technical training; all these are, obviously, available within the EU. He wants something that is incompatible with EU membership - else why leave?
Theresa May’s great remain speech was a purely transactional analysis of benefits and costs where reluctantly she came down on the side of Remain. At no point did she subscribe to any version of the European ideal.
What is clear from Theresa May’s career is that there are only two issues she really cares about: controlling immigration; and reducing human rights. Both require Brexit.
Her great Remain speech focused on her wish to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights – not actually an EU convention, though it would be incompatible with EU membership to withdraw from it. The Government has refused to take the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law when the rest of the acquis is adopted on Brexit day.
She was resolutely opposed to immigration throughout her time as Home Secretary. In her October 2015 party conference speech she said “Because when immigration is too high, when the pace of change is too fast, it’s impossible to build a cohesive society.”
So Brexit Britain under Theresa May’s leadership would be a country safe for those who want little immigration and no pesky human rights laws to get in the way of the police and the Home Office, nothing from abroad to threaten the English ways.
Others in her party have a different vision of Brexit Britain: low tax, few employment, health and safety, environmental, animal welfare protections. A society focussed on GDP. A radical shift from the European model.
Boris Johnson’s Uniting for a Great Brexit speech made much of deregulation – without being specific about which regulations should be dropped, beyond restrictions on live exports of animals and lower VAT on fuel. Writing in the Financial Times, former Head of the Institute of Directors Policy Unit and prominent Leave campaigner Ruth Lea emphasises the need for regulatory reform – without being specific.
Apart from immigration control, the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto did identify a short list of smaller changes that can take place only once we have left, though so vaguely expressed that one cannot tell what would be different: there will have to be trade deals to replace those we have left; an energy policy focused on outcomes not means; controls on the export of live animals for slaughter; unspecified changes to agricultural support; withdrawal from the London Fisheries Convention (a pre EEC agreement allowing European vessels to fish in certain UK waters); a less bureaucratic replacement for structural funds.
It does not have to be like this. When for example the Baltic states obtained their freedom from the Soviet Union they knew what they wanted to get away from: restrictions on freedom of speech, on travel, on telling the truth about history, on setting up a business. They knew they wanted an independent judiciary and fair trials. They knew what they were fighting for; and these were big ideals.
That Leavers do not tell us what laws they wish to drop, or only come up with trivia, is either incompetence (you need to know what the effects of a decision are before you take it) or a sign that they know that their proposals would be wildly unpopular if made concrete. We can all agree with getting rid of “unnecessary and harmful regulations”. When it turns out those are labour and environmental protection rules that safeguard us and where we live support will fall away.
Those who support parties whose Leaders stand for Leave need to be very clear what it is that they wish for that is contingent on Brexit - other than immigration control. It is obvious that the leadership wish for changes that cannot be implemented without Brexit – why else support Brexit? But they are not being transparent about what those changes are. We need to keep trying to find out what they are and present them to the electorate. Few in the electorate really voted to take the UK away from the European centrist model of a social market economy subject to the rule of law.
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