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Why is UK business following Jeremy Corbyn’s line of Brexit?

by Denis MacShane | 21.06.2019

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

There is a new and curious alignment between two of the main actors in the unending Brexit saga – UK business and Labour’s left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn.

All the Tory leadership candidates, once Sam Gyimah had dropped out, were in favour of Brexit. Even the much admired Rory Stewart made clear he would not deviate one inch from Theresa May’s unworkable and unpassable deal.

Jeremy Hunt, once a pragmatic centrist Tory who never much opined on the EU, has had to turn his coat and show anti-European leg even to get into the final run-off, where he will almost certainly still be crushed by Boris Johnson.

So, if the Tories have now swallowed the Nigel Farage potion of hostility to Europe, what of Labour? Corbyn apparently thinks Harold Wilson is the man to copy. Corbyn began his political life in the Wilson 1970s and would have been on every demonstration, march and picket line organised by the left against the Wilson government. He certainly campaigned against both EEC entry and for a No vote in the 1975 referendum.

Corbyn’s invocation of Wilson will bring a smile to the lips of Labour party members of the era. The Wilson fence-sitting and facing both ways on Europe divided and demoralised Labour. It led to the election of the eurosceptic Jim Callaghan as prime minister in 1976 and then to Margaret Thatcher’s win in 1979 and the return of full-on Bennite Labour anti-Europeanism, culminating in Labour’s pro-Brexit election manifesto of 1983 when Corbyn – along with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – was first elected.

But Corbyn has powerful allies. UK business in the shape of the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors and most industrial federations, City groupings and individual firms are all sitting on the fence refusing to come out and say clearly that Brexit is bad for business, and bad for Britain.

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They hide behind the mantra that they oppose a no-deal, crash-out Brexit. This is easy sloganeering. Other than the fellow travellers of Nigel Farage in the European Research Group, most Tory MPs oppose no deal too. Boris Johnson himself insists he is the Harry Potter of Brexit who can slay the Voldemorts of Brussels, leave fully and completely on October 31 and do so on terms that will boost the UK economy, open up new nirvanas of trade to boost our exports, and keep foreign investment flowing in as the 27 other EU countries concede all British demands under Prime Minister Johnson.

The CBI’s director, Carolyn Fairbairn, unites with Corbyn in opposing no deal. She and most publicly declared British businesses also align with the Labour leader by refusing to oppose Brexit or say that three years after the flawed plebiscite of 2016 new facts and a new electorate justify a new approach.

Business has refused to use its resources and presence in every community in the land to talk to employees, customers and elected representatives about the damage any kind of Brexit will cause the UK.

Like Corbyn the CBI, BCC and big firms prefer to sit on the fence like three wise monkeys unwilling to see, say, or hear anything about Brexit itself as they hide behind the easy slogan of “no to no deal”.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

One Response to “Why is UK business following Jeremy Corbyn’s line of Brexit?”

  • A depressing situation if true but the article does not explain the possible reasons for it. Is it a desire to back what appears to be the winning side, conformity with the fashion for brexiteering, desire for quiet life, or plain cowardice?