A tale of two Brexits, but neither is very enticing

by Luke Lythgoe | 26.09.2018

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have each today laid out very different visions for the UK’s post-Brexit economy. What they have in common is that both are flawed and neither is as good as the current deal we have inside the EU.

In his keynote speech at the Labour party conference, Corbyn urged a Brexit that “protects jobs, the economy and trade… We will vote against any reduction in rights, standards or protections and oppose a deregulatory race-to-the-bottom.”

He proposed a “green jobs revolution”, creating 400,000 skilled jobs and slashing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the middle of the century. Corbyn also pledged to invest in Britain after “years of austerity and neglect” and bring the country together after a decade of division.

Both are noble aspirations. But neither is helped by Brexit. Cutting carbon emissions is a global problem on which the EU has taken the lead in recent years. Brexit – even a very soft one – would undermine that united voice in the face of a dismissive Donald Trump. As for investment, any type of Brexit is projected to make the UK economy grow more slowly than if we were to stay in the EU. The economy is already being clobbered by uncertainty. A slower economy means fewer tax receipts for the Treasury in future, and less money for Corbyn to spend on fixing the damage of austerity.

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Finally, the only way Corbyn can get his jobs-protecting Brexit is to stay in the EU’s customs union and following the rules of its single market. But that means being a rule-taker without a say at the top table. The UK has a loud voice inside the EU. Surely Corbyn’s vision looks better if he can bring 27 other countries along with him?

Alas, despite huge enthusiasm among Labour members and potential supporters for a public vote on Brexit, with the option of staying in the EU, Corbyn continues to go no further than the weak formulation that he will “keep all options on the table”.

Meanwhile, over in New York, the prime minister outlined a very different vision: she told a business audience she planned to have “the lowest rate of corporation tax in the G20” after Brexit, making it “one of the most business-friendly economies in the world”.

Her comments will be greeted with scepticism by investors who see Brexit causing huge uncertainty. May will also set alarm bells ringing for her EU negotiating partners, who are worried about the UK turning itself into some kind of giant, deregulated low-tax economy. Feeding these fears will make a Brexit deal less likely. If we crash out with no deal, that will be a huge shock for UK industries – which is not very business-friendly at all.

We’ve been pitched a choice between May’s bargain basement taxes and deregulation, a nightmarish no-deal chaos that wrecks the economy, or a hobbled version of Corbyn’s socialist revolution. There’s a better option. Brexit is not inevitable. Now that the alternative post-Brexit futures are becoming clearer, the people should be given a vote on whether they still want to go through with it. If they don’t, let’s stop it and have a proper conversation about the best way forward for the country.

Edited by Quentin Peel

9 Responses to “A tale of two Brexits, but neither is very enticing”

  • I welcome Corbyn’s programme for ‘green” jobs, but transport is one of the world’s largest contributors to carbon emissions. So if we are downgrading the importance of our geographically closest market in favour of other markets on the other side of the planet, there is an inherent contradiction in terms of reducing carbon emissions. As well as increased fuel costs and the logistics for the transport of goods. This point needs to be spelt out more clearly in the Brexit debate.

    More specifically on Labour’s Brexit policy, if you can call it that, it is clearly preferable to May’s, but I fear that some voters who are unhappy about Brexit, will be equally unhappy with the rest of Labour’s policy agenda, which may swing them back towards the Conservatives. Still, this remains academic until such time as there is another general election.

  • Increasing carbon emissions would lead to further negative weather patterns. Unfortunately Brexit would help secure this very negative outcome. I totally agree this point needs to be very heavily spelt out to the British public.

  • Dimwits is a good, polite word and I agree with you completely. There is no ‘choice’ only if you prefer to be run over by a truck or a car. Do they not read and absorbe to numerous factual reports on the negative impact of any brexit?

    I understand May and her backers very well. They just want to get their hands on the UK for a free for all orgasmitron of uncontrolled free enterprise exploitation of any and everything. To our cost, personally and environmentally.

    But what on earth can be shaping Corbyn’s vision of the future? Why can he not see how all his goals can be achieved from within an EU membership? He could turn his considerable efforts and good will to improving both the UK and how the EU functions as well. Every EU country would benefit and the world would too.

    What’s up with Thornberry and her desire to further muddy the waters with her vow to getting rid of the ‘Jew Haters’ right now, before we take any further action to save the country. Yes, this is a serious problem and needs to be urgently dealt with. But this week? Are there not enough, more immediate urgent, issues to be resolved so we can all move on to a brighter, happier future. Those of Jewish and other ‘minority’ religious beliefs included.

  • I found the ‘but’ in Alex Wilson’s first sentence a bit confusing. The simple point is that any proposal which would lead to less of UK’s international trade being with European countries is effectively a proposal to increase carbon emissions. (And for more [now adding to Kate Warsop’s comment]: see

    As for 2017 Labour voters and potential new Labour voters swinging back to Conservatives, I’d say: 1. Labour’s fight can’t be expected to be a fight about Brexit alone. (I think that a win for Labour depends on their continuing to ensure that the political centre of gravity moves leftwards.) And 2. S ofar as their handling of Brexit is concerned: (a) they need to reveal the P.M. as incompetent qua negotiator, and (b) to show the Tories as having no interest in (i) defending rights and protections and (ii) delivering for all regions and nations of the UK.
    [As for Labour’s “exact same benefits” test. Let no-one forget that David Davis it was who, at the time that Labour had introduced its six tests, had claimed that a Brexit deal can deliver the exact same benefits as EU membership. If Davis’s claim had made Brexit seem O.K., then it needs to be clear why and how Davis had to retract—that he had, in a word, lied.]

  • The problem we are facing is that both leaders think that their respective parties are the people that they ultimately have to please. It is no surprise then, that they are unwilling to put the needs of the country ahead of a hard core of voters of either persuasion who are daily threatening to withdraw their support if their version of Brexit is not delivered. This is a not so subtle form of blackmail of tunnel-vision thinking people. I am heartened that there are politicians from all parties who are prepared to stand up for the good of the whole nation from both sides, but we need a lot more of them if we are going are truly going to see a solution for the many and not the few and not see a Hard Brexit by default.

  • Jennifer,
    If I were Michel Barnier I would be scratching my head at the Labour idea of wanting the same benefits as EU membership but no responsibilities. I hope when they meet we end up knowing the cost of such an agreement, because it is just not credible to think that such a deal would be free. The labour leadership idea, which is a watered down version of what many in the labour party appear to want, is really their own version of Brexit In Name Only. They should have the courage to tell the public that what was offered in the Referendum is just not possible and wholeheartedly support Remain if they are serious about not wrecking our economy and International respect. All of us need to understand that we have a corporate responsibility to think not just about our own likes and dislikes but what is best for the whole. If we don’t the only winners will be the likes of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees Mogg and their investment backers.

  • @ Jennifer Hornsby
    Forgive me, I probably didn’t formulate my first sentence very well.
    What I meant was leaving the EU would inevitably lead to a substitution of trade with Europe for trade with geographically more distant markets, which in net terms, would increase carbon emissions due to transport. I don’t know the exact proportion of CO2 emissions which is due to transport, but I’m sure it is extremly significant. Then there are the whole raft of regulatory standards applied at EU level as well as many issues e.g. pollution, which by their nature are international.

    What I’m saying is that if Labour wants to make ‘green’ issues central to its policy agenda, that should be another reason for staying closely aligned to the EU market. .

  • Tony (responding to your response to me),
    They lack the courage because they think that to win elections they need to keep the support of those hard-headed, strong-willed Leavers who are traditionally Labour voters and who think that what they wanted was achieved in 2016 and that it would be outrageous to allow that what they wanted might be overturned.
    At present I think Labour is relying on confusion-breeding constructive ambiguity. But since the aforementioned Leavers certainly didn’t envisage BINO, and since no-one knows whether a deal will be struck, it might seem best for Labour to take this one step at a time: maybe it’ll never be necessary for the Leavers to feel seriously affronted. Anyway we have to hope that Kier Strarmer finds a way through.