Fears over hard Brexit are growing. Labour must not be complicit in this disaster

Government plans would lose billions and sacrifice jobs


Labour’s ‘Road to Brexit Conference’ on Friday was illuminating.

The first part was with representatives of sister socialist parties from across Europe, whose message was that Theresa May’s approach to Brexit is in cloud-cuckoo land and Labour needs to speak truth to power about what is possible and what is desirable.

May either believes you can have your cake and eat it, or she is hiding unpalatable choices for as long as possible. Some clearly think Labour is in danger of being seen to be just going with the flow.

The second part was with speakers from business, trade unions, universities, devolved administrations, students, environmental NGOs, local government, human rights organisations and others, talking of their hopes, fears and expectations ahead of the Brexit negotiations. It was revealing.

Manufacturers want to keep unfettered (tariff-free, quota-free and red-tape-free) access to the single market. Hospitals need to keep access to Euratom’s radioactive isotopes for cancer treatment. Universities say it is vital to stay in the EU’s research programmes.

Wales wants to keep current arrangements for the customs union and single market and keep on receiving the investment currently provided by the European regional funds. Farmers are worried about their financial future and need continued access to European markets.

Our police forces want to continue to cooperate across Europe through Europol. The financial sector is desperate not to lose access to the European market. Students want to keep Erasmus and free movement.

Foreign policy wonks want Britain to stay in the EUs foreign policy coordination. Those working on environmental questions are worried that we’ll lose the benefits of joint European action. Researchers want to keep cooperative networks across Europe.

And nobody wants to damage our economy, lose billions or sacrifice jobs.

What this all adds up to is a deeply held and widespread concern about the consequences of Brexit – and they are concerns that can only grow. Along with this, there is a growing realisation that many of the reassurances made by the Leave campaign just cannot be relied upon.

The Labour front bench response was to say that, in parliament, Labour will do all it can to get the best deal – to soften the hard Brexit that the government is drifting toward.

But the Conservatives have a majority in the House of Commons, and are further bolstered by the eight DUP MPs, Labour Brexiteer Kate Hoey and UKIP’s Douglas Carswell.

At the moment, they are using that majority to vote down any amendment, however reasonable, to their Brexit bill. The chances for the opposition to shape anything are severely limited.

What then happens when the government comes back in two years time with a Brexit deal that fails to address the multiple concerns that those directly affected have clearly expressed?

Certainly, Labour cannot afford to be complicit in a national disaster. It will have to oppose this Tory Brexit.

Richard Corbett is deputy leader of the Labour MEPs and represents Yorkshire & Humber

6 Responses to “Fears over hard Brexit are growing. Labour must not be complicit in this disaster”

  1. Craig Mackay

    It is difficult to know what the best strategy for Labour actually is. This piece was echoed by John Major in his speech to Chatham House yesterday where he was highly critical of the Tory approach under Theresa May to every aspect of managing Brexit. Iain Duncan Smith on Newsnight last night (Monday 27 February) was reduced to describing it as “bitter”. They just don’t have any sensible rejoinder to what John Major said.
    I suspect that the best strategy for Labour is to sit back and wait to see just how badly it all turns out. It seems inevitable that inflation will rise and interest rates will start to pick up. The government announcement of yet more austerity on the lead up to the 2020 general election will go down well with very few of the Leave supporters and things will be worsening significantly for the just about managing at the end of the two-year Brexit process.
    In the meantime there is so much going wrong in the British economy under an increasingly right-wing Tory regime that it gives Labour every opportunity to get its message across. All the big intellects on the right are focused on Brexit, so any kind of Labour effort to oppose Tory policies on the NHS, social care, education, infrastructure investment, almost anything should be effective.
    All we need now is a Labour Party with an effective leader to push this agenda. Has anyone got one? I seem to have mislaid mine.

  2. Michael WALKER

    “In the meantime there is so much going wrong in the British economy under an increasingly right-wing Tory regime that it gives Labour every opportunity to get its message across.”

    Yes unemployment is at record lows and the economy is growing strongly – far better than forecast – and better than Germany or France…
    Really appalling way to run an economy…

  3. Seamus

    A thoughtful and helpful article, Richard. Many of us on the left appreciate the voice of Labour MEPs like yourself, and your alliance with other left and liberal parties in the European Parliament. So I guess my questions are:
    1. In the near-term, how do we make sure that the Labour front bench provides a meaningful opposition to a Tory Brexit?
    2. In the medium-term (2020!), how do we make sure that the Labour front bench is a credible candidate for government? Is it by partnering with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, by kicking out the toxic Corbyn/McDonnell combination or some alternative?

    A tragic time for the UK.

  4. Roy Boffy

    Labour is already complicit in whatever form of Brexit the Government arrives at, if it ever does, following its march into the Tory lobby without one of its amendments being accepted. This was a fooreseeable act of political suicide. Whenever Labour raises a complaint, May will simply be able to say: “You voted for it.” I despair at the pathetic sight of the so-called Opposition traipsing through the Government lobbies in fear of the electorate if they are seen to oppose Brexit. The worst thing about this is that it is not just Corbyn and his supporters who think that this was the wise thing to do, for the rot extends across the Party. Mainstream MPs like Emma Reynolds, Liam Byrne and Jack Dromey have all spoken of committing electoral suicide if they were perceived to be against Brexit. Yet this seems to be a misreading of the political reality beyond the noise of the Brexiteers and their rancid supporters in the rabid press.

    The EU was a very low priority for most electors at the last two elections. The referendum elevated it to a prominence it would never have achieved otherwise. As a single issue vote, the referendum was an obvious target with which to administer a much deserved kicking to the political establishment. The next General Election will be fought on a range of issues, including governing competence. By then it is quite possible that even many UKIP voters will be having second thoughts. There is nothing to support the idea that those who voted Brexit will not vote at the next election for a pro-Remain Party. Labour MPs need to recover their political bottle, stand up for what they believe in and urgently seek a credible leader.

  5. Jimmy Glesga

    We are out and there will be no crawling to the EU. The British gave up their dignity on joining this EU dictatorship. We have restored ourselves. If there are struggles ahead then we will face the music and dance.

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