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.