The Big Brexit Fight

There is certainly a Left, democratic case to be made against the European Union as currently constituted and I find ‘Leave’ sentiment among Labour Party members and supporters pretty justifiable using those arguments. On the other hand Brexit endorsement among Conservatives seems based on chauvinism, xenophobia, and bigotry as well as a massive misunderstanding of basic economics.

Now there is no disputing that ‘Leave’ forces scored a victory in the recent referendum, gaining a majority of both Tory and Labour voters, and those results represented the true “will of the people” at the time which should be respected. An open question is, having had a year or two to consider the ramifications and complications of that policy, is that the will of the British public today?

The ‘Remain’ case has been made much, much stronger by Theresa May’s pigheaded obtuseness and willingness to be guided by the most rabid and destructive of ‘Leave’ proponents. Their position is basically to sever all ties as soon as possible regardless of obvious negative consequences.

This is called ‘Hard’ Brexit.

May was considered during the debate a lukewarm ‘Remain’, rapidly reversing course after the results were known. Likewise Jeremy Corbin was labeled the same, a position for which he was roundly criticized by the Quislings of the Parliamentary Labour Party who saw their own positions of political privilege as being threatened by any change to the status quo (as well they might the Blairite, Tory-Lite, Neo Liberal traitors).

The fact remains that a majority of Labour Party members and voters were in favor of ‘Leave’, admittedly a smaller proportion than that of the Conservatives. In the face of May’s increasingly masochistic negotiating position, Corbyn and the Labour Party Leadership (including the much diminished PLP) have come up with a ‘Soft’ Brexit proposal that looks to create the minimum amount of change and disruption and implement it over a longer time period to mitigate shock damage.

This policy will be front and center of the next British Parliamentary elections which will be sooner rather than later (certainly before a Brexit agreement is signed, possibly even next year) because the Parliamentary Tory Party is itself deeply divided about Brexit and could easily force and win a vote of “no confidence” in concert with the united opposition of Labour.

Hey, this is good news.

Labour makes dramatic Brexit shift and backs single market membership
by Toby Helm, The Guardian
Saturday 26 August 2017

Labour is to announce a dramatic policy shift by backing continued membership of the EU single market beyond March 2019, when Britain leaves the EU, establishing a clear dividing line with the Tories on Brexit for the first time.

In a move that positions it decisively as the party of “soft Brexit”, Labour will support full participation in the single market and customs union during a lengthy “transitional period” that it believes could last between two and four years after the day of departure, it is to announce on Sunday.

This will mean that under a Labour government the UK would continue to abide by the EU’s free movement rules, accept the jurisdiction of the European court of justice on trade and economic issues, and pay into the EU budget for a period of years after Brexit, in the hope of lessening the shock of leaving to the UK economy. In a further move that will delight many pro-EU Labour backers, Jeremy Corbyn’s party will also leave open the option of the UK remaining a member of the customs union and single market for good, beyond the end of the transitional period.

The decision to stay inside the single market and abide by all EU rules during the transitional period, and possibly beyond, was agreed after a week of intense discussion at the top of the party. It was signed off by the leadership and key members of the shadow cabinet on Thursday, according to Starmer’s office.

The new policy will inevitably be presented by Brexit supporters as evidence Labour is ready to betray the will of the people as expressed in last year’s referendum, which delivered a narrow victory for Leave. And it sets the stage for incendiary arguments with the government on 7 September, when the European Union (withdrawal) bill returns to the Commons for its second reading.

Pro-EU Tory MPs, who also support remaining in the single market, will be put under intense pressure by Labour to fall in behind its position and rebel against their own party. If significant numbers were to do so, Theresa May’s already shaky grip on power would be seriously threatened.

Starmer says the time for “constructive ambiguity” is over. “Labour would seek a transitional deal that maintains the same basic terms that we currently enjoy with the EU. That means we would seek to remain in a customs union with the EU and within the single market during this period. It means we would abide by the common rules of both.”

He says the Tory position of leaving the single market and customs union would be “unnecessary and a highly risky path to take”. Starmer adds: “We will always put jobs and the economy first. That means remaining in a form of customs union with the EU is a possible end destination for Labour, but that must be subject to negotiations. It also means that Labour is flexible as to whether the benefits of the single market are best retained by negotiating a new single market relationship or by working up from a bespoke trade deal.”

No ‘constructive ambiguity’. Labour will avoid Brexit cliff edge for UK economy
by Keir Starmer, The Guardian
Saturday 26 August 2017

Constructive ambiguity – David Davis’s description of the government’s approach – can only take you so far. This has been underlined by the bland and noncommittal policy papers the government has published in the last two weeks.

Labour has repeatedly emphasised that in order to avoid a cliff edge for our economy there will need to be a time-limited transitional period between our exit from the EU and the new lasting relationship we build with our European partners. This is a view shared widely by businesses and trade unions, who recognise the huge damage that an abrupt separation from the EU would cause to our economy.

For a long time any notion of a transitional period was anathema to the prime minister and leading Brexiters in the cabinet. They preferred to labour under the delusion that the incredibly complex process of negotiating and delivering a new relationship with the EU could be delivered within 24 months.

The harsh realities of the negotiating process and the glacial pace of progress in the first two rounds of talks have helped puncture this illusion. There is now near consensus that a transitional period is an economic and political necessity. So I want to be absolutely clear about the type of transitional deal Labour would seek to negotiate. No “constructive ambiguity”. No mixed messages. A credible solution to one of the most important issues facing Britain’s exit from the EU.

Labour would seek a transitional deal that maintains the same basic terms that we currently enjoy with the EU. That means we would seek to remain in a customs union with the EU and within the single market during this period. It means we would abide by the common rules of both.

That is a choice Liam Fox and Philip Hammond explicitly ruled out a fortnight ago, stating that Britain would be outside the customs union and the single market in any transitional phase. Labour rejects that as an unnecessary and highly risky path to take.

By remaining inside a customs union and the single market in a transitional phase we would be certain that goods and services could continue to flow between the EU and the UK without tariffs, customs checks or additional red tape.

There are a number of other significant advantages to this approach. First, it is a grown-up acknowledgement that bespoke transitional arrangements are highly unlikely to be negotiated, agreed and established in the next 18 months. Second, it provides maximum certainty for businesses and allays concerns that there will be delays or disruptions to trade when we leave the EU in March 2019. It would also ensure there will be a one-step transition to a new final relationship.

Third, it provides more time to resolve the complex question of the Northern Ireland border. Labour is clear that this extremely serious issue must not be rushed and that a considered agreement needs to be reached that prevents a hard border and has support from all communities. The government’s policy paper on this was incredibly light on detail and gave precious little reason to believe this will be resolved satisfactorily by March 2019.

Fourth, it would enable negotiations to focus on the central Brexit issue: the nature of the new partnership that needs to be built between the UK and the EU. This is challenging enough without having to negotiate separate transitional arrangements at the same time.

It must be based on a deal that, as Labour made clear in our manifesto, retains the benefits of the customs union and the single market. How that is ultimately achieved is secondary to the outcome.

But the prime minister’s ideological obsession with leaving the customs union and the single market during a transitional period means the options to deliver a good deal for Britain are diminishing fast. The fanciful and unachievable proposals put forward in the government’s recent customs paper show the colossal risks it is willing to take with British jobs and the economy.

Labour will not take those risks. We will always put jobs and the economy first. That means remaining in a form of customs union with the EU is a possible end destination for Labour, but that must be subject to negotiations.

As Labour becomes party of soft Brexit, hard battles lie ahead
Toby Helm, The Guardian
Saturday 26 August 2017

Pro-Europeans in the Labour party have argued for some time that the evident chaos in Whitehall and lack of credibility in the government’s position on Brexit – its “cake and eat it” approach – offers huge political opportunity for the official opposition. But until this weekend Labour’s own Brexit policy has been not dissimilar from the Tories’ – the tortured product of a party almost equally divided over Brexit, and one that as a result has sought safety in deliberately obscure and nuanced messages.

In the run-up to the June general election, in which many Labour MPs feared a wipeout, Starmer had an interest in perpetuating this kind of “constructive ambiguity” that he now says must end.

At the referendum, Labour supporters broadly split between those in urban areas of the Midlands and north of England who backed Brexit at least partly because of concerns about freedom of movement and immigration, and those in the more metropolitan south who backed Remain, seeing the benefits of economic and cultural integration that the EU promotes. It was important, Starmer’s defenders said, to offend neither side of the Labour divide with the party so perilously positioned ahead of polling day. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, were anyway far from starry-eyed pro-Europeans (they still feel the old left’s antipathy towards the EU in their bones), so ambiguity suited them too.

Today, however, marks a highly significant turning point for Labour (and possibly for the country) in its approach to the EU – a move away from the party’s previous defensive ambiguity to one of far more positive engagement. In Starmer’s Observer article, signed off by the leadership and all key players in the shadow cabinet (albeit after days of intense argument), Labour has repositioned itself clearly and decisively as the party of “soft Brexit”. For the first time since the people voted to leave the EU, there is a visible expanse of clear blue water between the “hard Brexit” Conservative approach and the Labour one.

Whereas the Tories will pull the UK out of the single market and customs union on Brexit day in 2019, Starmer announces that Labour would keep the UK inside both and “abide by the common rules” of both, throughout the transition period. This period, Labour believes, could be as long as four years. During this time the UK would continue to abide by EU rules on free movement, accept the jurisdiction of the ECJ in trade issues, and pay money to Brussels. It would also use the time in transition to negotiate reforms to freedom of movement so the UK would regain more control of immigration policy. Perhaps even more significantly, Labour is not ruling out remaining in the customs union and the single market permanently if it can achieve the reforms it seeks. Put simply, a Labour government would try to keep the country inside the EU economic union during the transition period – while leaving the political union – and possibly beyond.

The reasons for Labour’s dramatic Brexit gear shift are many. Certainly a summer of stark warnings from business about the economic damage of a hard Brexit, and the impression that the Tory government is pursuing one for ideological reasons above all else, have shifted the national and party mood. This weekend, unaware that Starmer was preparing a big announcement, many Labour MPs – including Heidi Alexander and Alison McGovern– are launching campaigns calling for Labour to back single market membership with no ifs and buts.

But the change is deeply political too. Labour is now in a completely different position from the one it expected to be in when it approached this year’s snap general election. Rather than strengthening her grip on power on 8 June, and her ability to drive through a hard Brexit, the election left Theresa May without a Commons majority and massively weakened. Corbyn and Labour were strengthened in equal measure.

Labour now senses the possibility of power itself, and the way it is most likely to seize it will be by exploiting Tory turmoil and division on the issue of Europe. To do so, though, it has to have its own distinct approach. Much of Corbyn’s support on 8 June came from anti-Brexit young voters, whose enthusiasm will now be recharged. The scent of power seems to be injecting a new dose of pragmatism into the leadership. Corbyn, McDonnell and Starmer will all know that if they are to form a Labour government in the next few years, the worst possible economic conditions in which to take charge will be amid post-Brexit economic chaos outside the single market and customs union. What chance then would the party have of affording a Keynesian injection of public money into the economy and public services, if tax receipts were plummeting and the economy in headlong retreat?

Labour knows it now has to act fast in this new context if it is to seize its chances. The EU withdrawal bill returns to the House of Commons on 7 September for its second reading. The bill, if passed in its present form, would pave the way for an end to the UK’s single market and customs union membership, and terminate the jurisdiction of the ECJ over UK affairs. Labour’s next move will be to seek support in the Commons from pro-EU Tory MPs and others for its new position, as it tries to amend the bill and stop hard Brexit in its tracks. The stage is set for an autumn of extraordinary Brexit battles in parliament, running in parallel with equally momentous ones in Brussels.

I personally am not a “globalist”, particularly as defined by Neo Liberal Philosophy and Economics. While I’m perfectly fine with International Co-operation and Freedom of Movement (for people), what the WTO, NAFTA, and TPP deliver is Freedom of Financial Capital to flee to the lowest common denominator of slave wages and working conditions, and Government non-Regulation of Fraud, Extraction, Environment, Safety, Corruption, and Monopolistic Power.

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