Is Corbyn’s Brexit another version of cake and eat it?

by Hugo Dixon | 27.02.2018

Does Jeremy Corbyn have a viable Brexit plan? Or is he asking for the impossible? It depends on how one interprets three ambiguities in the speech the Labour leader gave yesterday, in which he set out proposals to negotiate a new customs union with the EU and a strong relationship with its single market.

First, does he want the UK to be free to negotiate its own independent trade deals after Brexit or just have a say in EU-wide trade deals? He suggested both, though the language isn’t crystal clear. The first is a non-starter as the EU won’t let us stay in a customs union with it if we undercut its trade policy by doing our own deals. The second is probably viable – though a “say” on deals would clearly be inferior to our current situation where we have a “vote” on them.

Second, does the Labour leader want exemptions from the EU’s state aid policy or just clarifications of it? He said both.

Again, the first is a non-starter, as the EU won’t let us have anything like full access to the single market if we are subsidising our industries left, right and centre. What probably is viable is a clarification by the EU that it would not have blocked anything in last year’s Labour manifesto, although proposals on the investment bank and regional energy suppliers would need to be carefully structured to pass muster.

Finally, when Corbyn talks about the “reasonable management of migration”, is he asking for an end to the principle of free movement of people within the EU? If so, we won’t get full access to its market.

But it’s not clear what the Labour leader is actually saying. He talks about investing in skills so Brits can compete, teaching foreigners to speak English and stopping worker exploitation. That’s all stuff that a UK government can do on its own.

Corbyn also takes aim at the EU’s Posted Workers’ directive, under which European citizens can be posted to other countries and undercut local wages and conditions. The good news is that the EU is well on the way to reforming this, not least because France’s Emmanuel Macron has the same concerns as Corbyn, and so the Labour leader is pushing at an open door.

It would be good if the Leader of the Opposition spelt things out. He would then not just be treating voters like grown-ups; he would also have the moral high ground when he takes Theresa May to task for her mushy fudge.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “Is Corbyn’s Brexit another version of cake and eat it?”

  • What a naive view of Corbyn, he as parliamentary lifer understands democracy as a process, what is in doubt is the socialist ability to deliver in the EU where the EPP is so strong.

  • His reservations about wanting proper access to the Single Market seem to be based around the fear that the EU competition rules will preventing state subsidies. e.g. the railways.
    I am not aware of any European country where the main rail operator is not state subsidised, and a good number of bus operators likewise.

  • Just as a matter of fact, Britain already has the highest rail subsidies in Europe, as well as the highest fares. And they go to private companies!