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Labour’s Brexit policy barely better than the Tories’

by Hugo Dixon | 19.04.2017

Theresa May says she needs to call a snap general election because otherwise Labour might derail her Brexit policy. Listening to John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, on the BBC’s Today programme this morning, one would have been hard-pressed to see that much difference between the government’s and the opposition’s position on Brexit.

Meanwhile, at today’s prime minister’s questions, Jeremy Corbyn seemed to want to talk about pretty much everything but Brexit. The leader of the opposition has also foolishly missed a trick by voting for an early election and giving May the two-thirds majority she needed to bypass the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. He should, instead, have brought a motion of no confidence in the PM on the basis that she had dishonestly promised not to hold a snap election. May could have still had her election, using another of the Act’s loopholes, but only if she’d then ordered Tory MPs to back or abstain in the motion of no confidence.

It has been clear since the referendum that Labour is committed to leaving the EU. It even whipped its MPs into voting in favour of triggering Article 50. Today McDonnell made clear that its approach to the single market and customs union weren’t that different from May’s either.

The shadow chancellor said Labour wanted “tariff-free access to the single market”. That is, of course, not the same as membership given that the main barriers to trade in the 21st Century are rules and regulations, not tariffs. It’s also roughly what the government is saying.

Asked whether Labour would agree to free movement of people, McDonnell said it wanted a “managed and fair immigration system from the EU”. Again, one could imagine Philip Hammond, the chancellor, saying something very similar.

McDonnell tried to avoid answering whether a Labour government would be free to cut its own trade deals around the world or stay in the EU’s customs union, which would prevent that. He endlessly mouthed the mantra that we would “maximise the benefits” from the customs union – a piece of political flannel that could have come out of May’s lips – though he finally admitted that we wouldn’t necessarily have full membership of the customs union.

Probably the biggest difference between Labour and the Tories is on what would happen at the end of the Brexit process. McDonnell says the deal would be put to parliament and “possibly the country overall”. May has just promised a take-it-or-leave-it vote; if MPs and peers don’t like what’s negotiated, we’d just crash out without any deal, with dire consequences.

Labour’s position looks better in this regard. But, then again, with words like “possibly” being bandied around, voters will want to scrutinise their manifesto when it is published to make sure.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

5 Responses to “Labour’s Brexit policy barely better than the Tories’”

  • does anyone seriously believe that a Labour government with Corbyn or McDonnell involved would not seek to protect the UK steel industry by state aid currently prohibited by the EU Treaty? Or pump state resources into lame ducks and other failed 70’s wheezes ?

    they are both fundamentally anti – free market and always have been. Their antipathy dare not speak its name but needs to be called out

  • I thought the Labour Party wanted to avoid the so-called Hard Brexit? This is hardly consistent with leaving the Single Market and Customs Union.

  • The British public must be made aware that if these Tories are given an increase in their majority, Britain is finished. It is already in debt. It’s deficit is like Greece’s. It will have to borrow more. It has nothing to sell. It will be finished. Pensions will have to be cut. Taxes will rise. The pound will fall. The cost of living will rocket. There will be no tariff-free trade deal with USA. They want to stop such trade deals to protect America. Except, that Trump has wised up a bit, a and no longer wants to destroy Europe. He wants a free trade deal with the EU now. That EU won’t have the UK in it. Any trade deal between USA and EU will exclude UK. In fact it will by nature of its existence stop any possible UK USA deal.The press must be honest. They have to protect the country & its citizens.

  • Britain will have to do a Greece & go to the IMF for a bail out. The credit agencies will clobber unprotected Britain.

  • Labour doesn’t want BREXIT. It wants BREXIT to exist because the UK will be in such a mess because of what BREXIT will cause that it will be easy to win the 1st post-brexit election. Labour would probably want to stay in the EU, even though the EU with the present bunch leading it is money orientated while having some workers’ rights, but feels it cannot risk saying that at the moment as the Brexiters would have a go at it. It is clear, though, that May cannot be given the power she wants. I’m that sense Labour should have prevented this election unless it really feels it can win it. I fear that the UK is going to have to go through a hell that will be so bad that the time will come when the people will be begging for a change of government. By then, it will be too late. The Mayites and Brexiters will have entrenched themselves as leaders of a poor nation (They will have kept the cash for themselves, of course). The poor blighters who voted BREXIT to take back control and have a democracy will be suffering and powerless in the May dictatorship. Poor fools. People of the UK, do not let this happen. You will suffer for decades.