Analysing Labour’s Brexit Conundrum

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April 29, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith


As an explanation for why Labour is finding it so difficult to work out their Brexit strategy goes, it takes some beating. Two thirds of Labour voters voted to remain. But in two thirds of the the Parliamentary seats that the Party is is defending, voters voted to Leave. 

So whatever strategy they put together for explaining their policy position on Brexit has to solve this almost impossible conundrum. The person who has to be the spokesperson for this area is one of the only MPs they have who (under what Corbynites like to call the ‘old rules of politics’) looks and sounds and has the skills to be a credible Prime Minister – former Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Keir Starmer. His speech this week trying to triangulate the in-triangulatable illustrated the problem perfectly. 

The Conservatives have released a White Paper which suggests that they intend to withdraw from the Single Market and Customs Union. The Single Market provided ‘frictionless trade’ in goods and services between all 28 countries in the European Union as well as being responsible for the frictionless movement of people across the borders too. The Customs Union involves free trade between all the members of the EU and a common external tariff between all members of the EU and all countries outside. 

Labour say that they will rip up this plan and replace it with a set of fresh negotiating priorities, including a plan to retain the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union. All sounds good until you realise that we are in a negotiation here and that in order to stay in the Single Market the UK would have to compromise on freedom of movement of labour (which needs to be sold in the 2/3rds of current Labour constituencies that voted to leave). Furthermore, if we remain in the Customs Union we have to give up the opportunity to make free trade deals with any other country outside the EU. Do we really want to do that? Labour should level with us that this is what we would have to give up under their plans. 

Their next commitment was to unilaterally guarantee the rights of all EU Nationals living in the UK. This sounds great, and has been the subject of much agitated virtue signalling amongst many pro-Europeans in the past year since Brexit. I for one would love to do that. One problem, the EU is refusing to guarantee the rights of British Nationals living in the EU. You see, in a negotiation there are two sides, and if you concede everything you may not get what you want back. I personally would like to see both sides commit on this issue, but I am surprised at many peoples’ inability to explain why their beloved EU, which has brought us so much peace and goodwill, cannot find the goodwill to even suggest that they would immediately respond in kind should the guarantee be made. 

The problem for Labour is that they are unique in their position on Brexit, which is that they don’t really have one. Labour consists of an uneasy coalition of metropolitan middle-class liberals and more traditional working class voters who actually have different views on the central issue of this election. Their leader went awol during the Referendum campaign, basically because he wasn’t interested and wasn’t capable of pretending he was. 

Therefore, it is probably better for Labour that we didn’t talk about Brexit at all. Because when we do they tie themselves into one god-awful mess. It would be helpful if this election were not about Brexit. But it is.

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3 thoughts on “Analysing Labour’s Brexit Conundrum

  1. roland says:

    I know that everyone is saying that this is a brexit election, but I can’t help but feel that although it is the underlying cause for a whole swathe of shifts of party loyalty in the kast year or si, it’s not the core issue that is making people decide who to vote for right now. the narrative during this election has really been about how big the tory majority will be. everyone is presuming that it will be at least big enough to negotiate brexit without opposition parties or hardcore remain tories being able to have much, if any, influence.

    for the lib Dems in particular this could be problematic. so far all their campaign has been about brexit (their party pplitical broadcast talked of nothing else) but if you are the average moderate remain voter, you know that bexit is happening and that the tories are going to lead it, so even if the lib dems managed to double their number of seats it’s still only 18 out of 650, so what the point? it’s nothing like close enough to have any effect on the negotiations and as they have ignored all other issues they have not given people any other reason to vote for them. there was an interesting article in yesterday’s guardian saying how the lib Dems could actually lose seats in this election with their current tactics.

    labour, as you mention, have got into a right old mess and a lot of it is due to general confusion over a whole range of issues, of which brexit is the main in one, but this all leads from poor leadership. I just can’t see davud Millaband getting them selves into a similar position. as the Italians say, the fish stinks from the head.

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    • Yes, the shift in party loyalties is quite extraordinary. I have friends who have voted Lib Dem all their life but are voting Tory as they think in this instance given we are leaving we just need leadership. It is why I can’t predict what will happen.

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  2. […] survive and retain the seat for Labour, Tulip Siddiq must find a way of beating the Labour Party’s unbeatable Brexit conundrum while also distancing herself from Jeremy Corbyn – but not to the extent that it keeps the […]

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