Today, the full scale of Labour’s disastrous Brexit policy became clear. Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman was asked several times if the party would support the UK staying in the single market and several times refused to to do. Corbyn wants “full access to the single market in goods and services” but he believes that aspects of it “are damaging to working people".
Corbyn’s move makes it radically more likely that Britain will fall out the single market. That is the intention of Nigel Farage, the Brexit trio on the frontbench and Theresa May's own rabble-rousing eurosceptic backbenchers like John Redwood and Bill Cash. The only people applying pressure from the other direction are Angus Robertson, SNP Westminster leader, Tim Farron, Lib Dem leader, and Anna Soubry, the Tory MP spearheading the remnants of the Remain group.
It is a betrayal of the working class. Corbyn’s policy essentially hands Brexit policy to the Tory right. He is, for all intents and purposes, in a pact with them. He did not bother to ask about Brexit during today’s PMQs, leaving it instead to the SNP. He offered a cursory comment or two - basically because the format prevents him doing otherwise - after May’s G20 statement. None of it had much meaning. He clearly has no intention of scrutinising the Brexit process. Previously I thought this was inadequacy. Clearly it is actually his conscious intention.
This failure of responsibility means the Tories are now entirely in charge of Brexit. And not just any Tories - the right of the Tory party. The anti-immigration, anti-welfare, laissez faire Tory right.
Consider for a moment what that means. For all intents and purposes, the entirety of Britain’s law is now up for challenge. Every equality law, every consumer protection, every workers’ right, every environmental standard: all of it is entangled in a mess of decades of conjoined EU and UK law. The government will first find a way to fix that law in place, then it will leave the EU, and then it will repeal the bits it doesn’t like at leisure.
Even that would be dangerous. It would mean that the Conservatives can unpick all the Labour government achievements of the last four decades. But this is worse than that.
At the precise moment that all that law becomes available to be reformed, Britain will be urgently seeking trade deals with the rest of the world. We will be desperate for deals, particularly with China, India, and the US. And what will they ask for? A reduction in our industrial and consumer protection standards. The chemical industry will want a reduction in our EU chemical standards. Silicon valley will want a reduction in our data protection laws. Big Pharma will want the NHS’s Nice committee dismantled so it can ratchet up the price of drugs. In all areas of life, our negotiating partner will push for what is best for them, which in terms of standards tends to be what’s worse for us, and the Conservatives will be ideally placed to give it to them.
The intention of free marketers like Redwood and his allies is to create a zero tariff, low regulation Singapore-style experiment. Finally, their opportunity will present itself. It will be a bonfire of legislation, and much of it done behind closed doors. May’s mantra of refusing to give a minute-by-minute account of Brexit negotiations is an indication of the pattern being followed. Secrecy, while the most right wing people in British politics fix up the British legislative agenda on the basis of urgent global trade deals.
And even if that were not the case, witness the blood price Corbyn has just demanded of British workers because of his ideological zeal. Take the automotive industry. Forty-nine per cent of UK-produced vehicles are sold across the single market, tariff free. Those tariffs will suddenly be imposed at ten per cent.
And that’s not even counting the non-tariff barriers to trade - small, fiddly trade agreements which allow for mutual recognition of your regulatory standards. If you don’t have those in place, your goods are subjects to all sorts of checks at the border, costing industries huge amounts of time and money. The Centre for Economic Policy Research found that auto regulatory divergences between the EU and the US are equivalent to a tariff of 26%. Suddenly, those will be imposed once again on nearly half our car exports - and everywhere else.
Who pays for that? Workers in the automobile industry. Japan was not lying when it said last week that carmakers Honda, Nissan and Toyota, which all have large bases in the UK, are set to up sticks if we leave the single market. Japanese firms, which also include Nomura bank and manufacturing corporation Hitachi, employ about 140,000 workers in Britain.
These are workers which Corbyn has just sacrificed to his outdated 1970s ideological puritanism. They have been left with no-one in parliament defending their interests, except for a motley and outgunned alliance of MPs who still, to their considerable credit, remember what their responsibilities entail.
Corbyn’s project is basically a Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with the Tory right. It is a betrayal of the people he and his supporters claim to represent.
Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk
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