The idea that anyone can tell us what a Leave vote represented is folly. The referendum was based upon our continued membership of the European Union, not upon what the terms of a theoretical exit would be. The idea that the 52% voted to take us out the single market, the customs union, and out of entities such as the European Court of Justice is ridiculous. Yet that is the drivel being spouted, not only by the Tories but by senior members of the Labour Party. There is no precedent for our exit from the EU whatsoever.
Because of this, Brexit is an absolute shambles. The government have absolutely no clue what they are doing and contradict each other one day to the next, and so do the opposition. The only party with clarity on these issues are the EU, and they will be licking their lips at the prospect of two years of discussions with David Davis. With a hung parliament, and the government lacking their own majority to enforce such a hard Brexit, the Labour front bench could play a divisive role in the future of our relations with the EU, and whether we stay within the single market. But alas, they are now standing back. As Rob Francis puts it quite simply, Labour and Corbyn should be leading, not following.
Labour’s stance on Brexit is, let’s face it, is anybody’s guess. Last Sunday on Andrew Marr, Jeremy Corbyn said that a Labour government would leave the single market because it is dependent on membership of the EU, which is both wrong, and harmful. Norway is one example of a country who are not in the EU but have full membership within the single market, and Corbyn knows this. By Wednesday, his Chancellor said the opposite, then Dianne Abbott mimicked this before Barry Gardiner said that we should leave both the single market and the customs union!
I do understand the arguments behind Labour not landing on one concrete position regarding Brexit, as the party hopes to capitalise on a changing public mood and Tory mistakes. But there are times when national interest comes first. Leaving the single market would be catastrophic for the UK’s economy, and even if Brexit led to a Labour government, leaving the single market would make it even harder and more treacherous for Labour to meet their manifesto spending pledges. The IFS has forecast that leaving the single market for a free trade agreement could cause a £31bn hit to the public finances, extending austerity even further.
Labour pledges for a ‘jobs first Brexit’, and staying in the single market is the only way to guarantee jobs, help manufacturing, and continue to grow the economy. Brexiteers may deny these facts, but they also believe that they can magically conjure free trade deals with non-EU countries without any disruption. But why can’t we have the best of both worlds? Why can’t we stay in the single market and still strive for trade deals with other countries as a non-EU member? It highlights the narrow-mindedness of hard-Brexit chasers.
The main reason Brexiteers argue that we must leave the single market is that of the free movement principles, most notably the free movement of people. What is often conveniently left out is that free movement allows for stricter implementation standards than Britain currently applies. As highlighted by Heidi Alexander, Article 112 of the EEA agreement allows for countries to limit any of the four freedoms, including the freedom of movement of people if it can prove economic or social harm, and let’s face it, Brexit is definitely that. As well as this, if any EU citizen hasn’t found work or a prospect after 3 months we can get them to leave, but the UK currently doesn’t enforce that. Lichtenstein, another example of a country outside the EU but inside the single market, also imposes quotas on EU migrants, something that the UK can fight for within negotiations.
As the smaller party in negotiations, there is no doubt we will have to make many sacrifices; meeting the standards and regulations of the EU likely being a major one. If we are already meeting such criteria in the first place, we are better off inside the market where we can at least have a voice. We are already seeing the cost of Brexit when it comes to jobs and the economy. This week we saw a huge slowdown in the economy’s growth, and that’s even over a year before we leave.
EU workers are already considering leaving after Brexit, as highlighted here. One-third of non-British workers are considering leaving, 47% of skilled EU workers the same, and 65% describe the UK as a less attractive country since the vote to leave the EU. If Britain stays in the single market, we benefit from EU law, various worker’s rights, and a protected environment. As Labour is the party of workers, and worker’s rights, we must fight for this. These regulations and rights outlaw discrimination in the workplace, they deliver maternity and paternity leave, the right to join a union, sick pay, maximum hours, and holiday pay.
Jeremy Corbyn must listen to his own party, and its members, who predominantly want to remain in the single market. 66% of Labour members want to remain in the single market, compared to just 4% who want to leave. The young voters who propelled Labour to its seat haul earlier this year also will feel betrayed if we don’t fight for single market access. Corbyn must speak for these young remainers, or he risks alienating the voting group he fought so hard to get out voting this summer. But by doing so, he must put aside his own lust for a hard isolationist Brexit, something he has craved for so long.
There’s no doubt what Corbyn’s position is on Brexit and the single market, but it’s vital for the country that he looks past it. As Rob Francis argues, it’s not enough for the party to sit tight and hope things fall in the direction they want, Labour needs to drive the shift in opinion itself. Leaving the single market will cripple the UK economically, and socially, and will harm future prosperity, and there would be no benefit for any future Labour government. Those in all parties, but especially those in Labour should put the single market at the forefront of their demands and pledges, not just for the party’s future, but the countries too.