An open letter to Keir Starmer: To avoid a cliff-edge Brexit, back the Lords amendment

Molly Scott Cato MEP reaches beyond party lines and calls for the Shadow Brexit Secretary to support staying in the European Economic Area.

Dear Keir,

I know we both share a sense of outrage at the way the government have curtailed debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill. This is likely to be one of the most important series of parliamentary votes in both our lifetimes. Because this is so critical, I am sending you my thoughts about Labour’s approach to the debate. 

In relation to the single market, you say that your Party is too divided to back a Lords’ amendment which would support the UK joining the European Economic Area (EEA) – the so-called Norway model – and would see the UK remaining in the single market.

All parties, to one degree or another, have divisions over Europe, but surely on the single market this is an issue of leadership. The divisions within your party have been heightened by the lack of conviction shown by the Labour leadership and especially by Jeremy Corbyn. There has been a clear failure to make the case that a ‘jobs first’ Brexit means remaining in the single market as the best option.

This lack of conviction is certainly not reflected by your membership, 87% of who back remaining in the single market. As to upsetting Leave voters in northern constituencies, a further survey revealed that Labour will lose more votes in pro-Remain seats by refusing to fight Brexit than it risks losing in its northern pro-Leave seats by opposing the Tories Brexit plans.

My fear is that your new amendment, proposing “full access to the internal market of the European Union”, while seeking to keep your party united, will actually deliver hard Brexit on a plate to Theresa May.

It will also fuel the commonly held perception that Jeremy Corbyn secretly longs for a clean break from the EU, mistakenly regarding it as a capitalist club which exists to further bosses’ power.

Frankly, this amendment is not just fudge, but fudge cake. Indeed, it is cake-ism at its worst and few will swallow it. Least of which the EU and EU27, who have repeatedly made clear they are not willing to allow cherry picking or bespoke deals for the UK.

Why do you think they would offer this to Labour rather than the Tories? You say if red lines change, there is a different negotiation to be had. But the red lines on the four freedoms – which are integral to the single market – are non-negotiable. Surely you realise this?

Your fudge cake will not gain the support of Tory rebels either, who in spite of despising their own party’s Brextremist agenda, none-the-less feel unable to hold their noses and support a Labour amendment.

The most pro-remain of Tory remainers, Anna Soubry, confirmed this, accusing your party of writing an amendment that could have been crafted by Boris Johnson because of its cake-and-eat-it position.

It is clear that the sensible amendment of EEA membership is what stands the best chance of cross-party support. Indeed, as your colleague Chuka Umunna highlighted, 12 Tory MPs have put their names to an amendment to the Trade Bill that would keep Britain in the EEA.

It is also therefore clearly the best way to avoid the cliff-edge Brexit that the Tories are leading us towards and so protect the jobs and living standards you claim are at the heart of your Brexit policy.

So, I urge you to think again. Although I am from a different political background and persuasion, I do sincerely respect you as a politician. I would hate for your legacy to be that you helped the Tories secure an economically destructive Brexit. You need to support the EEA amendment as passed in the Lords.

Molly Scott Cato is the Green Party MEP for the South West and Gibraltar. 

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