Expert View

6 flaws in Labour’s Brexit manifesto

by Denis MacShane | 16.05.2017

Denis MacShane is a former Minister of Europe and was a Labour MP for 18 years.

At last there is definitive statement on Europe from Labour in its published manifesto. Anyone who hoped that by voting Labour Brexit might be stopped or driven into a cul-de-sac will be disappointed. What’s more, the document is riddled with contradictions and omissions. Here are six:

Free movement and single market

Labour says “freedom of movement will end”, as it brings in “fair immigration rules.” But in the same breath, it places “strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single Market and the customs union – which are essential for maintaining industries, jobs and businesses in Britain.”

There is no explanation of how ending free movement can be squared with keeping single market and customs union benefits. But as the election is hardly discussing Brexit maybe this doesn’t matter.

Meaningful vote

Labour rejects “no deal” and promises that parliament will get a “truly meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal. But it doesn’t say what would happen if MPs and peers give Jeremy Corbyn’s deal the thumbs-down or if he’s unable to clinch a deal. The party is silent on this because it has rejected the only sensible solution: ask the people in a new referendum whether they still want to quit the EU.

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    European Court of Justice

    Labour says it would “seek to retain membership of Europol and Eurojust and continue European Arrest Warrant arrangements.” This of course implies accepting the ultimate jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice though the manifesto doesn’t mention that.      

    Hard border

    Labour says it will “ensure there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland”. But outside of the customs union it is not possible to avoid such a hard border.


    Labour also promises “no change in the status or sovereignty of Gibraltar.” But if the party accepts that British subjects including those in Gibraltar lose their rights to move freely across borders, it is hard to imagine Spain will not be in a much stronger position to put pressure on the Rock.

    Science and education

    Labour “commits to maintain the UK in Euratom, the European Medicines Agency and Horizon 2020” which funds university science research. This will be contingent on making hefty financial contributions and accepting that henceforth all rules will be made in Brussels by the EU 27. The same is true for Labour’s pledge to maintain participation in Erasmus, the student exchange programme. That’s a trade-off that may make sense. But nowhere does the party make that clear.

    Edited by Hugo Dixon

    12 Responses to “6 flaws in Labour’s Brexit manifesto”

    • Come on, that’s a poor analysis!

      1. Saying “strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single Market and the customs union” does not mean staying within the Single Market. It means what it says: retaining the benefits … (not necessarily all the benefits, just those that can be negotiated)

      2. Meaningful vote: Again, it means what it says. Just like with any other proposed legislation, Parliament has the final say. ‘Unable to clinch a deal’? – you can always clinch a deal – you just make more and more concessions if Parliament insists.

      3. European Court of Justice: you are wrong on that, too. Europol and European Arrest Warrant arrangements do NOT require that European Court of Justice has jurisdiction in UK. Not sure about Eurojust.

      4. Hard border: You obviously lack imagination: a) united Ireland, b) border at sea, c) virtual/ digital border and there may be other options

      5. Gibraltar: Spain may be in a stronger position and may cause chaos for a while as they have done on many previous occasions. So what?

      6. Science and education. The tradeoff is made clear by the commitment itself.

      Common you guys, try to view these policies objectively instead of through the distortion of your diminishing minority.
      I see the latest poll measures Remainers at just 22% and Leavers at 68%. Keep up!

      • 1. There is a clear and obvious discrepancy. You cannot have the benefits of the Single Market without being in it. That’s having your cake and eating it.

        2. What you say is nonsense. Parliament cannot make concessions until they are agreed with Brussels. A final vote is meaningless unless there is a real alternative, such as not leaving the EU.

        3. You may have a point here, but I don’t know enough about it.

        4. There is no lack of imagination. Either people are free to move between Northern Ireland and the Republic or they are not. People can currently cross the border for work, to shop, to trade; you can live one side and work the other. After Brexit, many of these may no longer be an option. This is clear and obvious.

        5. The people of Gibraltar will care a lot.

        6. Maybe. But it’s a stupid position to be in.

      • I’m interested where your 68:22 poll comes from. The last YouGov result I saw showed the views staying around the 50/50 mark – I think the last I saw was actually 50/50 but it’s never been quite in favour of remain, usually between 54/46 and 50/50 it is now. And YouGov is backed by a fairly staunch Tory/Brexit supporter too.

        I’ve seen smaller, biased surveys which show all sorts of results, but not anything substantial or even claiming to be well conducted showing that sort of change in the balance of views.

        It’s great that you see how these policies can be seen as sensible and hence could support them as I think Brexit or not should no longer be an issue between parties (I supported remain and think leaving is the dumbest thing we’ve done as a nation since getting drawn into the war in Iraq, and possibly much worse) but there is a stark difference between how the parties will approach the challenging times ahead, and I don’t believe the Tories have the best interests of the majority of ordinary people as their priority, where as Labour/LibDems/Greens/SNP I think do .

      • No country should be allowed to dictate to us what sort healthcare system we should have trade or not. If US makes impossible demands there’s always Canada, Australia and New Zealand if not the EU. If people die in Britain because they can’t afford to pay for their healthcare due US saying we must give up the NHS, there would be a lot of anti American feeling in this country. Many Brits may boycott American goods and services. If this happens Corbyn’s Labour is likely to win the next General Election in 2022.

    • Labour’s position on the EU is quite extraordinary. First of all it is proof that those who drafted the Manifesto do not understand the basic principle underpinning the whole European project, namely the free circulation of persons throughout the Union. This is the totally basic concept whereby people can move around freely within the Union, to work, live retire etc. The Manifesto purports to want to preserve the benefits of the Single Market and Customs Union while denying the rights of citizens of he Union to effectively be citizens of the UK as well with the same rights etc. This will never be accepted by the EU as it is in contradiction with the founding principles of the EU. How can the Labour Party be so uninformed?
      Secondly, the Manifesto indicates how important it is to preserve all the advantages of membership of the EU. Should the Labour Party not then be reconsidering whether it is really in the interests of the UK to leave the EU?

      • I don’t believe the Labour Party or those drafting the manifesto are ignorant of these things – but like the Brexit campaign before it, they are banking on voters being ignorant of them so just by saying things which sound good and vaguely possible, they hope that’s enough for people to be willing to support them again.

        All your points are as true now as they were when the Brexit campaign argued that we could have our cake and eat it, and a lot of people believed it then. Since those are the reasons many decided to vote leave (we can leave and still have all the good stuff) then if the Labour Party mirrors the same impossible promises/vague statements, it just might work again.

        What is amusing is all the Brexit backers who are now saying all these things are impossible when they were out and about and publishing leaflets saying all this isn’t just possible, but certain if we leave only a year ago. Unfortunately, I suspect quite a few people will have forgotten the UKIP propaganda that said all this was easy and no risk so they won’t see the irony in hearing the same people saying the exact opposite now, and instead claiming the things they dismissed as ‘project fear’ are actually true.

    • I agree entirely with David Quinn . I am unable to vote for either Conservative or Labour because my main concern is that we should stay within the EU where the country has benefited from all these years of peace, stability and increasing prosperity. I feel that the MPs in general have little or no idea how the EU works. Since the referendum was proposed I have tried to educate myself about how it all works. As I am in my late seventies it shouldn’t be beyond MPs and ordinary people to do the same. Then the only parties getting votes would be the pro EU ones.

      • Jenny Price if your main concern is about whether we stay in the EU and you are in your 70’s then it is extremely vital for you and your family that you assess your own financial situation against those of the manifestos on the NHS. This is the underlying issue behind why Theresa May called this election. The EU question is about whether we have a leader in power who can negotiate sensible deals without selling out to America. Is Theresa May capable of standing up to Trump if she gets in as UK will be isolated and vulnerable under a hard Brexit. The only asset is NHS. America may offer to pay for EU in exchange for open trade deal if EU backs are up. That is perfectly possible. The questions to ask is simply…do you want an NHS? can you and your family afford to pay for private health care? Are you happy for your family to pay for you if you can’t afford it? Will you be happy with an open trade deal (which is what Trump wants) and obligations with US if EU is left unfriendly? We will have no access to EU defense or research. The facts are: Theresa May will continue with selling off NHS to private companies. Another contract went recently to a company called ‘Circle’ who donated £1.5m to the Conservative Party. This is bribery! The cost of private health care is astronomical and bankrupts people in America daily. Will it bankrupt you? A Labour govt will keep NHS free and free movement enough so UK does not have skill shortage. Jeremy Corbyn is a master negotiator and cannot be bought by Trump. Theresa May is short sighted and puts peoples backs up. She is vulnerable to bribery and is using the same campaign company as Trump did which is owned by Steve Bannon one of Trumps men with links to Russia. Think very carefully about the NHS and the kind of person you are voting for. If you want to leave a legacy…inheritance tax is due to go up by Theresa May and benefits shortly reduced. EU details have miles to go…but NHS and US trade deal are imminently in danger! Think.

      • Jenny I started to educate myself on the EU 20 years ago when they imposed anti-dumping duties and quotas on my industry causing chaos for many.
        Duties that have been largely in place barring a short break in 2005.
        Duties that were deemed illegal by the ECJ in an action taken by Clarks and Puma. A judgement the EU has so far ignored.
        There are others, such as Lufthansa and British Airways winning a case against illegal state subsidy of Air France which they wonder several years and the Commision under Mr Kinnock just ignored it.
        Whilst we have both studied, we have come to different conclusions.
        But then I am about 19 years ahead of you, so you may see the light given time 🙂

    • Why doesn’t he make that clear? It’s because he’s appealing to leavers and remainers to unite behind progression.

      Let’s make it clear that I stand for the values of the EU, but you EU worshippers are counterproductive to furthering the globalist cause. You’re lacking tact, which is promoting a regressive Brexit in this two-party contest in 2017. This is not a muti-party contest like it should have been in 2020.

      – Vice-President of Students for the EU.

      • Will Durrant…This is not an election of lists of details around the EU as EU has masses of room for negotiating a variety of deals…IF a leader who wants to negotiate gets in!! Jeremy Corbyn wants to negotiate b is a highly skilled negotiator with likeability and will be working hard to ensure UK has friendly exit which allows plenty of room for helping with skills shortages, research and development, scientific knowledge, environmental issues with our nearest neighbours. These are round table talks with EU but he has pledged to keep NHS and make sure their are NO skill shortages around the country. He will be avoiding isolating UK to mercy of quick plasters with American trade deals (in favour of America), unfriendly terms with hiked exit fees because a hard Brexit is nothing more than a stropping tantrum and as we have seen with Theresa May…it has not helped UK at all. He will be avoiding the death noose of skill shortages and enabling UK students chances to learn abroad. These are talks with EU yet to take place but that’s what he will fight for. A hard Brexit with Theresa May will make UK dependent on a bailout for Brexit and cost of negotiating with every country round the world, access to research, defense alliance, etc. Worth bearing in mind Theresa May holding hands with Trump is NOT a good sign for our economy. An open trade deal with American products flooding the supermarkets and potentially Walmarts everywhere will kill UK quite literally. America has banned less than 100 known carcinogenic and infertility causing chemicals in personal products. EU has banned thousands and restricted thousands more. Under a trade deal with US that does not include restrictions on chemicals is likely to drive up obesity, cancer, illness, disabilities and dependency on privatised health care that in America bankrupts families every day. There are wider interests at work. Jeremy Corbyn cannot be bought by Trump and is extremely environmentally principled and understands the necessity of war being a last resort not a first one….which is also why he wants good relations with EU…so students can have choices! Think wider, think who can be bought and can you afford not to have an NHS available to you and your family and friends. The NHS can only survive with a strong Labour policy. The Lib Dems won’t get enough numbers to beat Theresa May (who is already selling it off) so even if you don’t value highly your local Labour candidates think of the big picture….think of the policies, think of the principles of the leader…can they be bought by Trump or not? Hope this helps.

    • To leave the EU would be suicidal for the UK. It clearly shows that no one from the UK government have given the outcome much consideration if we finally do leave. ( Hopefully this will never be the case and we come to our senses and retract Article 50)
      We could stand to lose everything gained over the last 40 to 50 years in commercial agreement, justice, security, customs and a long long etc.

      The real problem the UK have is the free movement of people into the UK. This is a big problem and should be given more consideration from the powers to be of the EU in Brussels. You cant really stop people from the EU but you should stop people from outside the EU especially of Muslim origin. This I see is the problem in the UK. I see now that most major cities in the UK are contaminated by Islamist and the local governments are defenceless. This should be addressed immediately with the help of the EU and also the UK should limit freeloaders from entering the UK living on assistance and giving nothing back to the community. Address these issues and people in the UK will see BREXIT from a different focal point and will not even think of leaving.

      We are stronger together and should remain in the EU.