Late last night, I received an email alert from The Guardian regarding a so-called “major shift” in Labour’s Brexit policy. In the email, the paper excitedly revealed that, in an interview published in The Observer, the party’s shadow Brexit secretary (Keir Starmer) was going to reveal that Labour would be putting clear blue water between its own and the Tories’ Brexit policy. ‘At last,’ I thought, ‘Labour is going to commit fully to keeping the UK in the European Single Market and the Customs Union post-Brexit’. I was (sadly) wrong, and like many have been left feeling rather disappointed.
What this supposedly “major shift” in policy actually represents is not totally different to what the Tories are proposing. In essence, Keir Starmer is proposing to have a transition period of four years, instead of what the Tories want, which is a period of two. In other words, the UK would be clinging to the cliff for a couple more years whilst trying to figure out where to go next. The interview also stated that, if the transition period proved to be successful — i.e: the UK economy doesn’t collapse — then Labour would ‘consider’ staying in the Single Market, but only if policies like free movement and others (possibly those concerning ever-closer union?) were altered.
My immediate thought after reading this was, ‘didn’t the UK already have this when it was a full member of the EU?’ Unless I am mistaken, the deal David Cameron secured all that time ago laid out that the UK “is not committed to further integration”, that we would be able to apply an ‘emergency break’ on immigration, and that the government would be able to apply another break on in-work benefits. This then begs the question (or rather two questions): Why doesn’t the Labour Party either (a) commit to staying in the Single Market indefinitely, or (b) commit to (at the very least) a second referendum on the terms of Brexit?
The answer to both questions is of course, Jeremy Corbyn. Within minutes of this announcement going live many were questioning whether Corbyn would actually fight for that indefinite stay in the Single Market following a two-to-four year transition period. I doubt he will. Corbyn’s objection to Britain remaining in the EEC in 1975, followed by his subsequent objection to the creation of the Single Market, clearly shows he has no love for it and thus no desire to stay in it post-Brexit negotiations.
Plus, his ambiguity on Brexit is still unnerving. I seen this take concerning Corbyn and this supposed shift in policy doing the rounds on Twitter:
It’s not without merit: When it appeared last month that Keir Starmer had changed Labour’s approach to Brexit by “keeping options open” regarding the Single Market, this contradicted Corbyn’s earlier remarks that stated Labour would fully exit both the Single Market and Customs Union. This was then followed by those infamous comments on the Marr Show where Corbyn stated that the UK’s “wholesale importation” of migrant Labour had “destroyed British working conditions”. And now, we seem to have come full circle with Starmer’s press release today.
It’s clear that the previous ambiguity from Labour on Brexit will no longer do, but this recent ‘shift’ in policy doesn’t really get rid of it, especially with Corbyn still at the helm. Whilst it’s welcome to see Labour take a more pro-European line, the party would be better committing fully to Single Market membership indefinitely if it wants to show that it truly cares not only about economic security, but about social justice as well. All this announcement does is continue the narrative that has been swirling in the social media ether for months now: **Labour wants a hard Brexit, just one that isn’t as hard as the Tories.**🔷