By Campaign Agent Oli Ratcliffe
Clarity over Brexit is something that the British public have craved for some time. Now 20 months since the referendum, the Labour party have again offered their stance on how they think we should navigate these negotiations. For many, it answered a plethora of questions. For others, it raises more problems than before.
What did Corbyn say?
The Labour leader made clear that the party “respects the result of the referendum”. Crucially, he backed a Customs Union, whereby the UK can have “tariff free access” to the single market without committing to all of its rules. He also stated that keeping the UK in a customs union would also prevent a ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Corbyn has long been sceptical about trade deals with the US and China post-Brexit, which he emphasised once again in his speech. He reiterated that both China and the US have “weaker standards and regulations” when it comes to workers’ rights, and that a US trade deal would involve privatising parts of the NHS.
The shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer stated that the Labour party “unanimously agreed” to the stance. He emphasised the need for a highly personalised relationship with the EU, with special arrangements put in place.
Mayday for May?
This stance will undoubtedly be welcomed by many Labour supporters, and will add fuel to the fire to the deeply divided Conservative party. The Leader of the Opposition openly said that politicians should “put the people’s interests before ideological fantasies”. As we have seen since the Referendum, many Conservative MPs have outwardly defied the whip on Brexit (most notably over Amendment 7), thus we may see Tory rebels side with Jeremy Corbyn over this issue.
The UK’s most influential business organisation CBI (Confederation of British Industry) have also openly supported Corbyn’s pledge to stay in a custom’s union, but remain sceptical over his ideas in other areas of policy. This will no doubt make the next few years even more difficult for Theresa May.
There is perhaps a silver lining for May, as this pledge may alienate the 35% of Labour voters who voted for Brexit. Labour Brexiteer Frank Field claims that Corbyn’s speech was “Blairism at its best” in his scathing remarks in his interview with Sky News.
It is difficult to deny the importance of this bold move to support a customs union. The Labour leader has wedged a clear divide between his party and the Conservatives, which is precisely what the party needs going forward. We can expect to see some alliances forming between Tory rebels and Labour, but do not expect the Labour Brexiteers to remain quiet on this issue either.
Sources and Further Reading:
- Jonathan Lis, 'Brexit: Corbyn is playing a clever long game that could benefit us all', Politics.co.uk (28 December 2017)
- Peter Moore, 'How Britain Voted', YouGov (27 June 2016)
- Ashley Cowburn, 'Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit speech - as it happened: Labour leader backs UK membership of a customs union after leaving EU', The Independent (26 February 2018)
- John-Paul Ford Rojas, 'Business groups welcome Jeremy Corbyn's customs union pledge', Sky News (26 February 2018)
- 'Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit speech - watch live', Guardian News on YouTube (26 February 2018)
- Richard Porritt, 'Finally... Labour pile pressure on Theresa May', The New European (25 February 2018)
- Aubrey Allegretti, 'Jeremy Corbyn's customs union plan 'impossible to deliver'', Sky News (26 February 2018)
Image: Andy Miah @Flickr