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