Labour promises to negotiate a rapid Brexit ‘deal’ with the EU and put it to the people. What sort of deal does Labour really envisage? An examination of its manifesto shows that its idea of Leave is in reality to Remain. Far from taking back control from the EU, Labour’s negotiating aims are consistent with nothing changing other than the UK no longer having a vote in the EU. Let Labour leavers beware.
Labour has recently started a charm offensive aimed at Labour Leavers. Its problem is simple. Polls have shown that Labour stands to lose more seats from the defection of Leave-supporting Labour voters than the Conservatives will lose in Remain-supporting constituencies. Labour must, and in short order, convince such Labour Leavers that it will play fair by them.
Its plan is essentially that it fooled these supporters in 2017, so there is no reason it cannot do so again in 2019.
In 2017, Labour convinced many of its Leave-supporting voters that it was serious about leaving the EU by pledging to leave the Customs Union, the Single Market and definitely ending free movement.
In 2019, in contrast, Labour’s offering to Leavers amounts at best to Brexit In Name Only.
Labour’s manifesto pre-dated the polls which made clear its need to appeal to Labour Leavers. This demonstrates what Labour would negotiate with the EU, and its principle promises are quoted here in full:
“A permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU, which is vital to protect our manufacturing industry and allows the UK to benefit from joint UK-EU trade deals.
Close alignment with the Single Market – ensuring we have a strong future economic relationship with the EU that can support UK businesses is backed by businesses and trade unions.
Dynamic alignment on workers’ rights, consumer rights and environmental protections so that UK standards keep pace across Europe as a minimum, allowing the UK to lead the way, not fall behind.
Continued participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, including in such vital areas of co-operation as the environment, scientific research and culture.
Clear commitments on future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant and shared databases, making people safer at home and abroad.”
There is nothing about what parts of the EU we will actually leave.
What we have are euphemisms for keeping things unchanged. Close alignment with the Single Market, but no mention of any limits. No demand that the UK-EU trade agreement be one of equals. No apparent change on UK involvement in EU integration in policing and criminal justice. No change in respect of other agencies. “Dynamic alignment” means that we must follow the EU on various matters of regulation, even if they are being foolish.
Even when the manifesto touches on fishing and agriculture, there is no actual suggestion that Labour proposes to change anything about the Common Fisheries Policy or the Common Agricultural Policy. There will be “new legislation to ensure support and certainty for UK farmers [and] our fishing industry”. Blink, and you could miss that this does not promise anything new in the relationship with Europe.
The question of stopping or reducing payments into the EU is not even raised.
It is a manifesto which makes much of keeping one option in a second referendum as being to leave the EU, but speaks only of how its vision of leaving will reproduce the present relationship.
The manifesto continues by giving as one of Labour’s key negotiating aims with the EU that:
“We will also secure robust and legally binding protections for workers’ rights, consumer standards and environmental protections.”
What Labour means is the UK will make a binding commitment to the EU in these ways. The EU will enforce the UK’s regulations in these matters, and ensure that the UK law is at least as strict as Europe’s.
It may be argued by some that the EU’s views on the rights and wrongs of these areas are excellent and worth following. But what sort of servile mindset must a country have for it to demand that its neighbours must supervise large areas of its own law? Labour cannot believe that the United Kingdom is capable of self-government, or what the Americans call “government by the people”, when they positively demand that some other people agree to enforce their standards on us.
It is incredible to remember that Labour has talked so much of Parliamentary Sovereignty these last three years, but now seeks to make our Parliament a mere registry for decisions made by the EU.
Doubtless Labour will say that it will negotiate. It will negotiate a say in the Customs Union and Trade Deals. But this is nonsense for two closely related reasons, and these show the reality of Labour’s strategy:
Firstly, whilst Labour will put literally everything on the table for negotiation, there is no suggestion that the EU should do the same. Labour might agree that any power the EU currently has over the UK should continue; but no flexibility is sought from the other side.
Secondly, Labour’s goals represent almost perfect outcomes for the EU. Labour has taken the EU’s top-line negotiating goals, and converted them into bottom-line UK goals. Instead of scratching its collective head to think what inducement it can give to the UK to agree to enter into a customs union, the EU can instead extract a price for agreeing the UK’s request.1
All in all, this is a Brexit strategy for those who have convinced themselves that leaving the EU is so ruinous that it would be better to stay in without any voting rights. It is a Brexit for the Party that thought that renaming the “European Constitution” as “the Lisbon Treaty” made it entirely different—different enough at least to fool the public. It is a Brexit designed by a Party that does not even bother to pretend they are negotiating something that will increase the UK’s independence.
Many Labour Leavers trusted the Party’s 2017 promises of leaving the Customs Union and Single Market. In 2019, there is nothing in Labour’s manifesto even vaguely suggesting that a Labour Brexit will be anything other than camouflaged Remain.
The EU has a long history of overturning adverse referendum results by offering cosmetic and fairly meaningless changes. Labour’s offer to its Leave voters it precisely this.
‘Titus’ is a young academic.
This article was first published on Briefings for Brexit, and is republished with permission. You may not use, copy, distribute, publish, syndicate, sub-license and transmit the whole or any part of such material in any manner and in any format and/or media without the permission of the original publishers.