The speeches compared
London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg compares the two recent big speeches by Theresa May on Friday 2 March and by Jeremy Corbyn on Monday 26 February 2018. It is worth reading the speeches in full: you get the tone and the qualifications to proposals which some press reports miss. The Q&A sessions afterwards are also revealing, not for the uniformly evasive answers but for the questions which are evaded: Theresa May from 43 minutes; Jeremy Corbyn from 1 hour 18 minutes (if you wish to listen to his speech it does not start until 37 minutes). There are differences in the Brexits the two party leaders are seeking but the similarities are bigger: both are still into cherry picking or cakeism. More interesting is whether the speeches answer the question: who is more committed to Brexit?
Both wish to end freedom of movement
Jeremy Corbyn: “Freedom of movement will as a statement of fact end when we leave the European Union.”
Theresa May: “… l set out why the existing models for economic partnership … impose unsustainable constraints on our democracy. For example, the Norway model … would also mean continued free movement.” “We are clear that as we leave the EU, free movement of people will come to an end and we will control the number of people who come to live in our country.”
So, what do they want on immigration?
Jeremy Corbyn: no clue as to new rules but there would be actions such as to improve skills and enforcement of minimum wage laws.
Theresa May: “So we want to … agree an appropriate labour mobility framework that enables UK businesses and self-employed professionals to travel to the EU to provide services to clients in person … . And we want to do the same for EU firms providing services to the UK.” And “… a far-reaching science and innovation pact with the EU, facilitating the exchange of ideas and researchers. … And we want to take a similar approach to educational and cultural programmes …”.
Does that mean some sort of privileged status for EU citizens wishing to travel to Britain for these purposes that is easier than the visa system for the rest of the world?
Both believe in magical customs rules
Jeremy Corbyn: “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.”
Theresa May: “Option one is a customs partnership between the UK and the EU. At the border, the UK would mirror the EU’s requirements for imports from the rest of the world, applying the same tariffs and the same rules of origin as the EU for those goods arriving in the UK and intended for the EU. … But, importantly, we would put in place a mechanism so that the UK would also be able to apply its own tariffs and trade policy for goods intended for the UK market. …. Option two would be a highly streamlined customs arrangement..”
These arrangements do not exist anywhere in the world. The government described them as “blue-sky thinking”. There must be real doubts whether, even in theory, they avert the need for a hard border in Ireland. And even bigger doubts about whether they can be implemented, leave alone by the end of the transition period (December 2020).
In December, the agreed first choice for solving the Irish Border had been the overall UK/ EU deal. It is clear that Theresa May’s red lines mean there will be friction at the border. The next two options, restated above, have made no progress either with the public or the EU in the intervening three months and remain in the magical thinking box. The fourth agreed option from December – special EU-aligned status for NI – was included in the EU text of the draft legal treaty and rejected by the Prime Minister and DUP as unacceptable.
Both wish to be close to the Single Market
Jeremy Corbyn: “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.”
Theresa May: “As with any trade agreement, we must accept the need for binding commitments – for example, we may choose to commit some areas of our regulations like state aid and competition to remaining in step with the EU’s.” “And in other areas like workers’ rights or the environment, the EU should be confident that we will not engage in a race to the bottom in the standards and protections we set.” On trade in goods: ”The UK will need to make a strong commitment that its regulatory standards will remain as high as the EU’s. That commitment, in practice, will mean that UK and EU regulatory standards will remain substantially similar in the future.” “In some cases Parliament might choose to pass an identical law [to the EU’s]. …. If the Parliament of the day decided not to achieve the same outcomes as EU law, it would be in the knowledge that there may be consequences for our market access.”
But not that close
Jeremy Corbyn: it would be necessary to “… negotiate protections … in relation to privatisation and public service competition directives state aid and procurement rules and the posted workers directive.“
Is that the point of Brexit?
Theresa May identifies only one area where she wishes to diverge: “On digital, the UK will not be part of the EU’s Digital Single Market, which will continue to develop after our withdrawal from the EU. This is a fast evolving, innovative sector, in which the UK is a world leader. So it will be particularly important to have domestic flexibility, to ensure the regulatory environment can always respond nimbly and ambitiously to new developments.”
So, an independent digital policy framework is the point of Brexit?
Both wish in some way to be part of or close to a number of EU agencies and programmes, including specifically
Jeremy Corbyn: Euratom, Erasmus
Theresa May: European Medicines Agency, European Chemicals Agency, European Aviation Safety Agency, Euratom.
Theresa May: “… protecting the single electricity market across Ireland and Northern Ireland - and exploring options for the UK’s continued participation in the EU’s internal energy market.” And “The UK is also committed to establishing a far-reaching science and innovation pact with the EU, facilitating the exchange of ideas and researchers. This would enable the UK to participate in key programmes alongside our EU partners. And we want to take a similar approach to educational and cultural programmes, to promote our shared values and enhance our intellectual strength in the world - again making an ongoing contribution to cover our fair share of the costs involved.”
Both expect to pay budget contributions to identified agencies and programmes.
Both wish to have our cake and eat it
Jeremy Corbyn wants all the cake: “Labour would seek a final deal that … maintains the benefits of the single market and the customs union as the Brexit Secretary David Davis promised in the House of Commons …”
Theresa May: “Similarly, on financial services, the Chancellor will be setting out next week how financial services can and should be part of a deep and comprehensive partnership. We are not looking for passporting because we understand this is intrinsic to the single market of which we would no longer be a member. It would also require us to be subject to a single rule book, over which we would have no say.” “As in other areas of the future economic partnership, our goal should be to establish the ability to access each others’ markets, based on the UK and EU maintaining the same regulatory outcomes over time, with a mechanism for determining proportionate consequences where they are not maintained. But given the highly regulated nature of financial services, and our shared desire to manage financial stability risks, we would need a collaborative, objective framework that is reciprocal, mutually agreed, and permanent and therefore reliable for businesses.”
Only Jeremy Corbyn really thinks that Brexit means more money
Jeremy Corbyn: “And we will use funds returned from Brussels after Brexit to invest in our public services and jobs of the future…”
Though Theresa May did remember the point when challenged that she was promising across many areas to follow EU law and how did that reflect the Leave vote? She answered that people voted to take control of our borders, laws and money; and that we would not be sending vast sums to the EU in perpetuity. (Q&A 45.00)
Theresa May is a fan of Global Britain, Jeremy Corbyn not
Jeremy Corbyn: “We do not believe that deals with the US or China would be likely to compensate for a significant loss of trade with our trading neighbours in the EU.”
Theresa May: “A Global Britain which thrives in the world by forging a bold and comprehensive economic partnership with our neighbours in the EU; and reaches out beyond our continent, to trade with nations across the globe.”
Both rule out a further referendum
Jeremy Corbyn: “Labour respects the result of the referendum and Britain is leaving the EU.”. In the Q&A after his speech, Corbyn said: “We are not proposing a second referendum”.
Theresa May in the Q&A after her speech “If that's an attempt to ask whether we will think again on Brexit, the answer is no, we won't think again on Brexit.”.
Theresa May wins the hypocrisy award, and the runner-up prize
Theresa May: “And this is why at every stage of these negotiations, I have put the interests of EU citizens and UK nationals at the heart of our approach.” Remember bargaining chips? Not a phrase she ever used but one description of her policy (the other explanation being that she genuinely wished to remove rights from EU citizens in the UK and did not care about UK citizens in the EU or thought that EU states would behave better than she did)..
Theresa May: “We will not be buffeted by the demands to talk tough or threaten a walk out.” Remember “No deal is better than a bad deal”? She was reminded of her statement in the Q&A at 49.00 and waffled around the point.
Any hint that they are moving to Remain?
Jeremy Corbyn: “We cannot be held back inside or outside the EU from taking the steps we need to support cutting edge industries and local business, stop the tide of privatisation and outsourcing or from preventing employers being able to import cheap agency labour to undercut existing pay and conditions.” (My emphasis) Does that mean that at least in theory Jeremy Corbyn would contemplate staying inside a reformed EU? Or does that just make his case for leaving? Nothing else in his speech could be taken to even hint at the possibility of Remain.
Theresa May: not even that.
Conclusion: the nature of Brexit
We are surprisingly little further forward after the two big speeches. For all Theresa May’s rhetoric of hard choices she sets out no plan to make any. Essentially what she is promising is a new version of cherry-picking based on pretend sovereignty where Parliament will in practice follow EU laws across a whole range of areas. Remember how the February 2017 Brexit White Paper described the present level of Parliamentary sovereignty at paragraph 2.1: “Whilst Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU, it has not always felt like that.”. She is promising something similar – except we will have no say in making the EU’s laws. It is hardly “taking back control”.
Jeremy Corbyn promises full-on cakery. That cannot be a serious negotiating claim, more preparing the ground for a pre-Brexit general election to be fought on a Better Brexit platform.
Experience has taught us that the EU’s views matter rather more than the UK’s. The European Council’s 7 March draft negotiating guidelines pour cold water on the UK’s plans, reaffirming there is to be no cherry-picking and making clear the treatment as a third country. However, the guidelines note that if the UK changes its red lines then the EU would reconsider its position.
So, who is the more committed Leaver?
Both support Leave. Both had campaigned – feebly – for Remain. Both voted Remain. Both have a mixed voting record for and against more EU integration, though Theresa May’s seems more related to which party is in office. So neither is a full-on Leaver. And yet?
Theresa May? The two big driving forces of her politics are to cut immigration and to leave the European Convention on Human Rights. Leaving the EU is a necessary first step to achieving these ends. Her great April 2016 Remain speech showed that she had zero sympathy with or understanding of the European Project. Her approach to the EU was purely transactional.
And yet while it is hard to believe that Brexit would break her heart she still is not wholly committed. Her “we will not think again” was in response to a German journalist who noted that Theresa May was preparing the public for difficult negotiations and asked whether Brexit was worth it. Boris, Gove, Farage would have looked puzzled by the question and said “yes”. Theresa May had nothing to lose by saying “yes”. So she must think “no. No, it’s not worth it.”
Like most Ministers, Theresa May will have experienced not only the frustrations of having to work with the EU but also the benefits of intergovernmentalism. Although she seems to have only a hazy grasp of the economy, she like most Conservatives does believe at some level in markets and trade as the foundations of prosperity. Perhaps she has realised that even improbable trade deals with the USA, China and India will not compare to the three course meal we have now.
So, if she thinks Brexit is not worth it, why is she doing it? A misunderstanding of the extent of the referendum mandate? A lack of leadership, of courage? A belief that she is holding the party together? Or the country? A sense of the absurdity of a referendum where she would campaign against the deal she had negotiated while Leavers would say that the deal was lousy because it had been sabotaged by a Remainer and they would obtain a better deal once we had left? Personal ambition?
Jeremy Corbyn? Presumably his commitment to ending Freedom of Movement is pure electoral opportunism (man of principle?). In the Q&A he says that there is no future in turning this country into some xenophobic offshore island that sees everybody as a threat, and calls on us to be proud of our open multicultural multilingual society (1 hour 33 minutes); fine rhetoric, but his policy would achieve what he says he opposes. But apart from citizens, Corbyn’s internationalism has always been focussed on movements claiming to be fighting Western imperialism and on socialist states, rather than on social market democracies.
He clearly regards markets and trade with suspicion, as instruments that hinder the State from pursuing its mission. He sees the EU as a barrier to implementing his programme. He makes this point not only in his speech but also when challenged by a journalist in the Q&A (1 hour 22 minutes). But his examples (eg water competition/ nationalisation) are obviously not hindered by EU rules – you only need to look around other countries.
Yet it is that hostility to markets – even if he cannot identify a rule that would actually prevent him implementing his manifesto; or if he will not announce the programme he would like to adopt that would genuinely be stopped by EU rules - which explains why his speech contains reasons for Brexit in a way that Theresa May’s does not. For Corbyn, Brexit really is necessary and will be fine so long as Labour are running it.
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