Labour’s Manifesto and Brexit.

Labour’s hopeful stance on Brexit.

Negotiating Brexit.

On Brexit, the Labour Manifesto states that the referendum result has been accepted. In other words, Labour will support Brexit whether it is in Government or not.

There are some questions about Labour’s approach though.

In “Negotiating Brexit” (pg 24) it states –

“We will scrap the Conservatives’ Brexit White Paper and replace it with fresh negotiating priorities which have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union — which are essential for maintaining industries, jobs and businesses in Britain. Labour will always put jobs and the economy first.”

However, on “Immigration” (pg 28), it states –

“Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union.”

On this point, it is important to realise that it is just not possible to retain “the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union” and end freedom of movement.

Let us remind ourselves of what the EU has to say about the Single Market –

European Union (One market without borders)

“In the EU’s single market (sometimes also called the internal market) people, goods , services , and money can move around the EU as freely as within a single country. Mutual recognition plays a central role in getting rid of barriers to trade.

EU citizens can study, live, shop, work and retire in any EU country — and enjoy products from all over Europe.”

Let us also remind ourselves what Donald Tusk (EU Commission President) said after the EU Referendum –

Donald Tusk (June 29, 2016)

“Leaders [of EU27 countries] made it crystal clear today that access to the single market requires acceptance of all four freedoms, including the freedom of movement. There will be no single market “à la carte”.

It goes without saying that though, as Labour’s Manifesto points out, the “benefits” of the Single Market are indeed “essential for maintaining industries, jobs and businesses in Britain”.

Gordon Brown and UK Manufacturing.

Gordon Brown was most emphatic on this point when he spoke of the dangers to UK manufacturing in the Daily Mirror on 10 May.

Any disruption to this integrated European supply chain, such as charging tariffs at £1,000- £2,000 extra per car, imposing custom barriers and losing crippling legal actions over rules of origin — will instantly threaten British jobs and livelihoods.

He then went on to say –

“But as every opinion poll shows , what I seek for jobs — free trade and easy access for selling our goods in the European market — is overwhelmingly supported by both Leave and Remain. It’s the one negotiating aim — that we bargain for tariff-free and friction-free access for our manufacturers — that could unite the country under a common national objective if unity is what the Conservatives really seek.”

Of course, the best way to achieve “free trade and easy access for selling our goods in the European market” is to stay in the EU. At a very minimum, it would mean staying in the Single Market, perhaps as a member of the European Economic Area(EEA).

Peter Hain’s Single Market Amendment.

Labour oppose staying in the Single Market though as do the Conservatives. As pointed out, Labour want the “benefits” of the Single Market, not membership.

When Labour peer Peter Hain put forward an amendment in the House of Lords for the UK to stay in the Single Market, Labour opposed it.

As reported in Business Insider -

‘Labour’s Brexit spokesperson Baroness Hayter said that a vote to stay in the single market would have defied the will of the people on immigration.

She told the House that accepting the single market amendment would be acting “as if the referendum had not happened and the result was not for leaving.” She added that continued single market membership would be akin to “airbrushing” people’s desire to restrict immigration.

“We cannot simply airbrush free movement from the referendum decision,” she said.

“If we turn around to those who voted out and say, ‘Yes, well, we’re out but still have everything exactly as it was, with free movement unchanged,’ I think that might evince some surprise.” ‘

Hain went on to say,

‘ “Both the government and, may I say sadly, my party leadership in the Commons, have effectively put the migration issue ahead of jobs and prosperity, and I think that’s fundamentally mistaken,” he said.

“Of course human rights and of course migration issues have to be addressed. But to put that first, to put migration first ahead of jobs and prosperity, which depend on the single market, is perverse in the extreme in my view.” ‘

This view is, obviously, in sharp contrast to Labour’s Manifesto which states, “Labour will always put jobs and the economy first.”

Peter Mandelson and the EEA.

Labour (and the Govt) also oppose being a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) after Brexit.

Peter Mandelson spoke on this (again from Business Insider) –

‘Mandelson called on the government and the Labour front bench to consider continued membership of the EEA trading block.

Several European countries are members of the EEA while not being EU members. This allows them to enjoy full access to the single market while not being subject to full membership terms.

However, Baroness Hayter rejected Mandelson’s call, saying that staying in the EEA would “make us mere recipients of rules decided elsewhere.” ‘

As Labour now oppose being in the EU, being in the EEA and being in the Single Market, it is difficult to see how the Party can propose a policy for the UK to retain the “benefits of the Single Market and Customs Union”.

Of course, the truth is, that it is impossible to retain such benefits and end freedom of movement. The Labour front bench knows this as does every single Labour candidate standing for election.

Labour knows the UK cannot have a “cake and eat it” Brexit so why put it in the Manifesto?

In reality, the Labour Manifesto is not a programme for Government. It is a programme to try and ensure as many Labour MPs keep their seats as possible as the Party knows it cannot win this election. In heavy Leave areas, the emphasis will be on ending freedom of movement.

In areas dependant on manufacturing and farming, (eg Sunderland with Nissan), the emphasis will also be on retaining the kind of “free trade” access that Gordon Brown talked about. The kind of access, which in reality, can only be achieved by membership of the Single Market to protect UK jobs.

I would say the “Negotiating Brexit” section is delusional but that would be too kind. It is really deeply cynical by pretending that there can be a different trade deal outcome to Brexit if negotiated by Labour than by the Conservatives with ending freedom of movement. That the trade deals Labour can get will ensure “free trade and easy access for selling our goods in the European market” and Labour can “bargain for tariff-free and friction-free access for our manufacturers” as Gordon Brown put it and still leave the Single Market.

Unfortunately, Labour’s “Negotiating Brexit” perpetuates the myth of a pain-free Brexit, a Brexit where the UK can decide the terms of future trade deals with the EU after we leave. It is no wonder then that most people in the UK wish to get the process over and done with. After all, if even the Labour Party thinks it possible to get the “benefits” of the Single Market with ending freedom of movement, the UK should just get on with it.

Sadly, after the General Election, I’m afraid the electorate will see that, when it comes to trade deals with the EU, it will be the EU27 who will dictate the terms when we leave.

Actually, in truth, it will be EU27 including the regional parliaments (in total 38) who will decide them as the European Court of Justice has now said. I think we’ll find out soon that Wallonia will have a bigger say in what Brexit means than any UK Government if the wrangling over the EU-Canada (CETA) negotiations is anything to go by.

John Rogan. 16 May 2017

P.S. Another difficulty with Labour’s Manifesto is, of course, Northern Ireland. In “Negotiating Brexit” the Manifesto states -

“In particular Labour will ensure that there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.”

However, it is not possible to ensure that there is “no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland” and ending freedom of movement.