Corbyn’s half-conversion on Brexit half-good

by Hugo Dixon | 12.09.2017

It is heartening to see Jeremy Corbyn’s slow conversion from eurosceptic to pro-European. Yesterday the leader of the opposition told the BBC’s World at One that he’s open to staying in the single market permanently.

This marks a further, important shift in Labour’s European policy. It follows Keir Starmer’s success last month in persuading Corbyn to back membership of both the single market and customs union for a transitional period after we quit the EU. The shadow Brexit secretary added that we could also stay in a customs union with the EU permanently.

Yesterday Corbyn said: “There has to be a trade relationship with Europe. Whether that is formally within the single market or whether that is an agreement to trade within the single market I think is open for discussion and negotiation.” As a result of these interventions, Labour’s official policy is now that we may remain in both the single market and customs union permanently.

This shift in policy is half-good. Staying in the single market and customs union means we would not be cut off from our most important market, which is responsible for half our trade. We would avoid a potentially big hit to our economy. It would also mean there wouldn’t be any need to reimpose a hard border in Ireland, something that could undermine the peace process in Northern Ireland.

However, we would also have to follow the EU’s rules, pay into its budget and accept free movement of people. What’s more, we would have to try to copy any trade deals the EU did with the rest of the world without the freedom to cut our own agreements. And we would have to do all these things without being able to vote on the the EU’s policies.

At present, we do all these things but sit at the EU’s top table. What’s more, we are one of the most influential members of the club. Despite propaganda to the contrary, we win the vast majority votes in the EU’s Council: we have been on the winning side 98 percent of the time since 1999.

Why would we want to move from being a rule-maker to becoming a rule-taker? If it is a good idea to stay in the single market and customs union permanently, it is an even better idea to stay in the EU permanently.

Corbyn isn’t prepared to make this argument yet. He is concerned to respect the will of the people, as expressed in last year’s referendum. However, he has also shown himself susceptible to pressure. His half-conversion is presumably partly driven by the realisation that most Labour voters and especially the young, many of whom are enthusiastic Corbynistas, are pro-European.

If the will of the people starts to change in favour of staying in the EU – as there are tentative signs that it is beginning to – who knows, maybe Corbyn himself will become a full convert. Given his ability to influence public opinion when he puts his mind to it, that would be a game-changer.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

4 Responses to “Corbyn’s half-conversion on Brexit half-good”

  • Corbyn should now be aiming to get the Article 50 notice rescinded. Brexit is the most unwise, crazy, unworkable public policy ever conceived.
    It is pointless to pander to Mays policy of wrecking over 40 years of social and environmental progress.
    Driven by her desire to help unscrupulous employees and investors to screw their workforce’s without recourse to law.
    She really is despicable individual with no moral compass, and all consuming personal greed!

    • I could not agree more. I detested Thatcher but at least you knew exactly where you were with her. Theresa the mobot is a wolf in sheep’s to clothing. A vicars daughter!, Stalin was training for the priesthood. Any kind of fanatical zealot is not to be trusted. This lemming like rush for national suicide & ruin must be stopped.

  • Both the internal party pressures impacting upon Corbyn and his own inclinations need to be both understood and addressed by those advocating a rescind Article 50 policy trajectory.

    First, a small majority of his MP’s – concentrated in the north and midlands – are opposed to free movement and hence permanent or even prolonged transitional membership of the SM, on the back of local antipathy to migrants, for whatever reason. Economic research on the minimal impact of immigration on wage levels (but possibly some at the lower level) is unlikely to be the conversational currency of the local pub or nursery in these areas. This concern can’t simply be wished away.

    Second, Corbyn himself is committed to procurement policies favouring domestic suppliers and involving a 20:1 top to low pay ratio within companies winning public tenders. If continued single market membership prevents that, it can be anticipated that his support for it will waver. Indeed, his recent shift quite possibly is tactical rather than reflecting a real change in heart.

  • Why did she invoke Article 50 so soon before her government had any idea of a plan? Why did she close so many doors (like wanting to pull out of the Single Market?) Why didn’t she genuinely consult with the devolved governments before coming up with a plan? She has no leadership qualities whatsoever.