As anyone who has spoken to me about politics, or read anything I’ve written on the topic in the last few years will know I am far, far from Jeremy Cobyn’s biggest fan. Furthermore I have repeatedly been pretty disappointed with his, and Labour’s, positioning on Brexit both pre and post the vote in 2016.
But I have to say that I think the outrage from remainers over his meeting with Nick Boles et al and the “Common Market 2.0” gang (that is EEA/EFTA + Custom’s Union BTW) is both misplaced and misconceived and tactically the wrong thing for Remainers to do.
Now I don’t, for a second, believe that Corbyn is in any way working to try and stop Brexit. He wants it and everyone knows it. But in terms of getting a good, or at least a “not as bad” outcome from Brexit requires Remainers to, I think, be a little flexible.
Like most other die hard Remaoners I want Brexit stopped or cancelled; and whilst I have distaste for referendums I kind of feel that what is enacted by referendum can only be undone by referendum. Therefore my first choice, what I’m “hoping for” is a People’s vote, May’s Deal vs Remain (hoping for probably a misnomer, I dread it, just dread it less than any other option).
But the first rule of political realism is deal with the world as it is, not as you wish it were. I frequently criticise the Unicorn hunting of the batshit Brexiteers; and Unicorn hunting from those of us who hope to undo Brexit is just as bad.
Here is the truth, barring a remarkable turnaround from the Government front bench, and the Labour back benches there is very little likelihood of a People’s vote getting through parliament. It won’t matter how Corbyn whips. It isn’t impossible, and I’m not imploring anyone to give up on this idea. But the cold, hard, facts are the Parliamentary arithmetic mean that delivering this is just not within Corbyn’s gift, even if it was something he wanted to deliver (it clearly isn’t).
In politics we all too often let impossible pursuit of the perfect mean that we miss out on the merely good, or even just better (case in study the ERG, and I suspect the Labour left). I know that my optimal outcome (Brexit stopped) is unlikely. And I therefore think it is necessary to look at other solutions, that may well be sub optimal.
For me the options are on a continuum of suitability and how damaging they will be to the country. Stopping Brexit is the best option. If that cannot happen then a close relationship along the lines of the Common Market 2.0 would be the next best. Then May’s deal. Lastly “No Deal” is the most horrendously damaging option that must be stopped and resisted at all costs.
The Common Market 2.0 (hereafter CM2) indeed does have some particular advantages, that in some ways (but not overall) make it more appealing that trying to stop Brexit.
Firstly (and this is a important) it probably, probably, has the votes to actually be carried by parliament and therefore to resolve the issue. If May’s deal get’s another thumping defeat next week (and all the indications are that the Government is trying their very best to make that happen) and No Deal is ruled out; then trying to find a solution that can actually pass parliament will become very important.
Secondly the mandate from 2016. I’m deeply uncomfortable with all this “will of the people” stuff; I think it is pretty obvious at least some people have changed their minds, circumstances have changed, the electorate has changed, and what is being offered now isn’t what was promised in 2016 (not to mention that the honesty and integrity of the referendum is now under serious question). But the truth is we had a vote; and in many ways by having a solution that respects that, that discharges that mandate, then we have a platform for actually moving forward and healing.
Whatever any leavers try to claim, CM2 would absolutely discharge the mandate. It might not be exactly what some of the people who voted leave thought they were voting for (though contemporaneous data seems to suggest most leave voters thought we’d stay in single market at the time of the referendum) but the question on the ballot paper was about us leaving the EU. In CM2 we would unquestionably have left the EU and therefore the mandate, however dodgy it is, would be discharged.
So those are the two ways in which CM2 would in some respects have advantages over cancelling Brexit (at this stage). Of course there are other benefits too CM2 would very neatly solve all of the very difficult issues we have around Northern Ireland and the Good Friday agreement (indeed it is the only solution that can do this AND maintain the territorial integrity of the UK).
The backstop, and all it’s huffing and puffing is basically a way of kicking into the long grass that the UK has to choose between it’s obligations under the Good Friday Agreement, or it’s territorial integrity, or it’s desire to leave the Single Market and Customs Union. We can only really have any two out of three, and this uncomfortable reality is one which May is reluctant to actually confront at this stage. Plumping for CM2 resolves that little conundrum for us.
It would have the advantage of being exactly what business wants if we are to leave and gives us the least bad exit in terms of damaging the economy (important if we want an incoming Labour government to be able to actually transform lives rather than just mitigating decline).
This one, this one is a biggie, it actually would “Just make it stop” (which I suspect that 90% of the British public desperately want). CM2 would require some negotiation and implementation. But as it would be using largely “off the shelf” solutions, and would likely command cross party support it would be able to be done *relatively* straightforwardly.
In contrast May’s deal, Labours fantasy Unicorn version or No Deal is going to be the work of a generation to implement. Any of them will consume our politics, economy, and legal system for the best part of a decade. Combined with the much worse adverse effect on the economy that any of these would have will be devastating for the British state, and ordinary working people in particular. It also saves us from predatory action from Trump’s America on trade and means we can duck that Chlorine Chicken.
I don’t think that CM2 is perfect, nor even optimal. It is basically pointless, we leave, sort of, damage our economy but don’t get any of the imaginary benefits that Brexit was supposed to bring (but never would have). But it discharges the mandate, does so in a not particularly damaging way, let’s us move on and do so quickish. It also offers a better platform for the UK to change it’s mind down the line.
I do not think we are going to get a People’s vote, and if we do it would be very difficult to win. So Common Market 2.0 might be the least bad option. And it might be something that could actually be delivered. Remainers ought to at least consider and not dismiss it.