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Laboured Brexit

By Ruairi Luke McCallan

Poor Theresa May. As talks between the British Government and the EU stall and her foreign secretary makes speeches on topics such as how to improve Libyan tourism by cleaning all the dead bodies off its beaches, many feel it is only a matter of time before she breaks under the increasing pressure, is stabbed in the back by one of her backbenchers, and resigns to be replaced by someone like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Philip Hammond or that same aforementioned foreign secretary.

Given the mess the Tories find themselves in, many in the UK Labour Party have their tails up, sensing an opportunity not only to further increase the ever-mounting number of woes Theresa May has to deal with, but to actually win the next general election, emerge with a governable majority and govern the United Kingdom. The party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has become more prime ministerial during Prime Minister’s Questions, appearing more authoritative and confident than when he first appeared at the dispatch box in 2015. Long gone are the days of the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition being attacked by both the Government and his own party for not wearing a proper suit and tie it seems!

Indeed, there is a feeling amongst many Labour supporters and those that voted for the party at the last election that a Labour government would be better for a post-Brexit Britain than a Conservative one. Keir Starmer, the party’s Brexit spokesperson, has been far more polished and confident in interviews than his Tory counterpart David Davis, appearing both on top of his brief and as a ‘man with a plan’, an individual many feel the Tories sorely lack at this point in time. Labour’s plan for a four-year transition period, whereby Britain stays in the European Single Market for four years after the negotiations, and their clear rejection of a ‘no deal’ scenario should negotiations falter have also brought praise from both political commentators and fellow opposition parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (SNP), two parties ardently opposed not only to a no deal scenario, but the idea of leaving the European Single Market altogether.

Such feelings of optimism are misplaced however. A Labour government would be as bad as the current one. Instead of further austerity and pointless restrictions on immigration, there would be crippling tax rises, unaffordable amounts of public expenditure and slightly less harsh but still rather pointless immigration restrictions. The party would also not provide the ‘exit from Brexit’ that many in the UK hope it would bring, nor does their current Brexit policy differ in a huge way from the Tory government they claim to be fairer and nicer than. The Tories propose a two as opposed to four-year transition period, and whilst Labour’s added two years would certainly be welcomed by many, the end result of both policies remains the same: Britain crashing out of the Single Market and customs union with little idea of where to go next other than comply with WTO rules that many argue would hugely damage the country’s economy and trading prospects.

Corbyn himself has been an avowed Eurosceptic since his election to Parliament, but it seems that his supporters still believe that by virtue of him being ‘nicer’ than Theresa May he will either cancel Brexit or at the very least keep the UK in the Single Market for good. Such a belief is again misguided, and is frankly rather laughable. The party imposed a three-line whip on the Article 50 vote, telling members to either vote in favour of triggering it or simply abstain and not bother voting. Corbyn has always seen the EU and its predecessor the EEC as a project driven by global capitalism. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with him, but unlike the MP for Islington South I see that aspect of the EU as a positive thing rather than part of some grand conspiracy and front for some sort of neoliberal, Zionist or [insert standard enemy of the left here] agenda!

These supporters also seem to have missed the interview Corbyn gave on the Andrew Marr Show in August where he stated that not only was there no point in being a part of the Single Market as that basically still meant Britain was in the EU, but that Britain had been guilty of a ‘wholesale importation of migrants that had destroyed British working conditions’, and that the party would be looking to reduce the number of migrants coming into Britain in order to prioritise native ones. Now, I don’t know about you, but that line reminds me very much of the narrative woven by despots and nationalistic populists like Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen or Donald Trump rather than a leader who promised a ‘nicer kind of politics’

A Labour government would not provide the ‘exit from a hard Brexit’ that many – including a lot of its own supporters – seek. Britain would still crash out of the Single Market, would still suffer economic decline, and would still become more isolationist. The country would not become fairer, and in fact would be crippled by unaffordable public spending and tax rises in areas like corporation tax that would drive out business, harming employment prospects for many. A reduction in the number of immigrants would harm not only the agri-food sector but also other key areas like the NHS, a service that employs many European and foreign workers in its hospitals, nursing homes and institutions.

Neither they nor the Tory government have a plan that actually helps Britain’s economy post-Brexit. Whilst I’d love for everyone to start supporting the LibDems, something tells me that just isn’t going to happen. Labour supporters who are pro-Europe need to wake up and smell the coffee – The only way to save the country from a hard Brexit is not only to topple Theresa May, but also to topple Jeremy Corbyn and elect someone who advocates for Single Market membership like Chukka Umunna or Heidi Alexander. Only then can Labour be a party that is ready to govern the United Kingdom and help the country succeed in the post-Brexit era.


Originally published 1.12.17 in Vol. 1 No. 1.


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