Thursday

21st Nov 2019

Column / Brexit Briefing

Corbyn re-opens Labour's single market wound

  • Corbyn's (l) Labour party might need rescuing without the youth Remain vote. (Photo: European Commission)

The best tactic in politics when your opponents are tying themselves in knots is to stay quiet and keep handing them the rope.

Labour has spent the six weeks since its surprise resurgence at the June election enjoying Theresa May’s descent to ‘lame duck’ status and her marriage of inconvenience to Northern Irish Unionists (at a cost of £1 billion) to stay in power.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

There is no shortage of withering criticism of the government’s handling of the Brexit talks in Whitehall and from political pundits across the right and left divide. Schadenfreude is in healthy supply.

So Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s decision on Sunday (23 July) to rule out the idea that the UK could remain in the single market post-Brexit makes little sense.

To Corbyn, single market membership is “dependent on membership of the EU”.

“What we have said all along is that we want tariff-free trade access to the European market and a partnership with Europe in the future”.

Aside from the legal inaccuracies with this appraisal, the problem with Corbyn’s position is that it sounds identical to what right-wing Brexiteers, David Davis and Liam Fox, are advocating.

Corbyn’s trade spokesman, Barry Gardiner, then doubled down on this stance on Tuesday (25 July). Staying in the single market would mean the UK would “technically not be a member of the EU, but we would in effect become a vassal state”.

This position should not come as too much of a surprise. Corbyn and his main allies, shadow chancellor John McDonnell and communications chief Seamus Milne, come from the Labour faction that views the EU as a "capitalist’s club".

Jacques Delors’s wooing of the British trade union movement in the late 1980s, by promising that employment rights and social protection would be at the heart of the internal market, did little to shift Corbyn and co’s euroscepticism.

There are, however, several problems. Labour remains a largely pro-European party and around 60-65 percent of their supporters voted Remain in the June 2016 referendum.

First-time voters

The party’s surge on 8 June – claiming 40 percent of the vote and denying Theresa May her majority – was, in large part, on the back of a tidal wave of first-time voters, most of them under 25 years old, and most of them Remain supporters. Seats with Remain majorities saw most of the largest swings to Labour.

A survey by the LabourList website indicated that 72 percent wanted the party to push for Britain to remain in the trading bloc after Brexit, compared to 19 percent that wanted the party to support leaving the single market.

Meanwhile, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) – whose members are Labour’s main financial backers – argued this week that the UK should “follow the lead of other European countries which are in the single market but which have chosen to exercise more control over migration”.

While Corbyn’s personal popularity is higher than ever – he has used the past six weeks to cement his position as politician-cum-rockstar cum-messiah, drawing huge and adoring crowds at the Glastonbury festival – it’s hard to see how Labour can win without the youth Remain vote.

If young voters can’t re-wind the clock to change the referendum result, they would at least want single market access and freedom of movement.

“What happens when all those first-time voters realise that Jeremy supports a ‘hard Brexit’ as much as the Tories?” worries one senior Labour politician.

This isn’t the first post-election skirmish on the issue on Labour’s benches. Four front-bench spokespersons were dismissed from Corbyn’s team last month after being among 49 Labour MPs to support an amendment to the Queen’s Speech, demanding that Britain remain in the single market.

'Why say anything?'

That amendment achieved little other than allowing the Conservatives to point out that Labour was just as divided as them on Brexit. The smart option is to leave every Brexit option on the table.

Having put themselves within striking distance of returning to government within the next two years, re-opening party divisions by ruling out single market membership is a baffling tactical blunder.

One of the few perks of being in the Opposition is that you don’t have to make the painful and unpopular decisions that are the daily reality of government.

“Why say anything? It’s the Tories’ mess, leave them to it,” says another exasperated Labour veteran. It’s hard to disagree.

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a freelance writer.

Interview

Corbyn: UK should pay EU what it owes

The UK will have to accept the Brexit financial settlement, Jeremy Corbyn said, adding that if he was prime minister he would "negotiate to protect jobs".

Column / Brexit Briefing

Tories on manoeuvres, as Labour wakes from Brexit slumber

In Labour's programme for the June election, Jeremy Corbyn claims there will be no second EU referendum and promises a form of associate membership with the EU. For the moment, it’s as far as his party can go.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit vote devours UK's Labour Party

Britain's referendum was instigated by the Conservatives, but the result has left Labour staring into the abyss.

EU threatens legal action against UK over commissioner

The European Commission has started an infringement proceeding against the United Kingdom for failing to nominate a commissioner-candidate. The new commission, which wants to launch on 1 December, first requires a commissioner from each of the 28 EU states.

News in Brief

  1. Berlusconi wants Europe to be a military global power
  2. Orban ordered to apologise over 'misleading' Soros survey
  3. EPP to decide on expelling Fidesz by end of January
  4. Rowdy anti-corruption protest in Malta
  5. Ambassador: Trump ordered Ukraine election meddling
  6. EU links Libyan government to human trafficking
  7. Greek PM on migration: 'Greece has reached its limits'
  8. Luxembourg: EU ought to recognise Palestine

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. EPP wants to re-open accession talks with Balkans
  2. New EU financial instruments needed
  3. Binding measures to expand gender balance
  4. Watershed moment for rule of law in Hong Kong
  5. EU Africa envoy: Europe needs to look beyond migration
  6. New calls for Muscat to resign over journalist's murder
  7. Tusk pledges 'fight' for EU values as new EPP president
  8. Don't lead Europe by triggering its fears

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us