Much has been made recently of the Labour Leadership’s confused Brexit position. The general line from Corbyn supporters is “Brexit has happened, it can’t be stopped, what can we do?”. Many Labour Remain supporters believe that the result must be respected, whatever the cost, and that therefore the Leadership is just respecting democracy.
However, the reality is Brexit is a truly terrible development for the UK. It’s been driven by people who didn’t even understand how the EU operated and had no plan for it’s success. Fundamentally, on every level and in almost every aspect it will damage the UK politically, culturally & economically, especially because its complexity has been drastically underestimated by its leaders.
Finally, the people Labour say they support will be most affected. The rich will be insulated but the average working family will see significant pressures across the board and the inevitable slowdown will reduce the tax base and therefore impact public services such as the NHS. Simply put, a future Labour government can invest to address the systemic issues in the UK, or it can manage Brexit and it’s negative impacts over its term in office, it can’t do both.
Fortunately however there is an obvious position for Labour to take, one that is in line with existing policy, has already been raised & which respects the referendum vote, namely a pain free, cost-less Brexit.
This is based on an honest assessment of what people were promised, what they actually voted for, and what they expected, rather than politicians selectively deciding what the result represents.
To determine this we need to look at what Vote Leave promised. So for example we have Sir Digby Jones promising that “not a single job would be lost” from Brexit. We have Andrea Leadsom promising “No impact on UK economy“. Michael Gove saying there’d be a few “bumps in the road” & finally Boris Johnson with his “sunlit uplands” & “even better deal than we have now” rhetoric.
Yes, the £350 Million on the bus has been derided but it’s also important, because the consistent message was that Brexit would cost us nothing, not a single penny. The only impact would be a return of up to £350 Million per week depending on how trusting of Vote Leave you were. Overall the message was they need us more than we need them and therefore we’d either stay in the SM or get an even better deal.
Remainers & Labour supporters will say “yes but that was all Leave lies” – and it may have been – but the voters believed it.
The above poll shows there is no majority for prioritising immigration control over economic cost. The poll below from the Telegraph shows a majority believing either in “Cake & Eat it” or “Norway” with only a small minority favouring hard brexit.
And voters still believe in a “cake and eat it” pain free brexit. This recent poll shows a majority want the Single Market, but also shows that a majority don’t want the requirements of the Single Market (contribution and FoM)
So a pain free brexit was promised and no significant poll since the referendum has shown that a majority “voted to be poorer”. Yes there are some polls showing a significant number of older leavers are prepared to accept Brexit at any cost, but not a majority overall. In fact all polls indicate that significant people believed the “pain free, cost free” message from Vote Leave.
In fact arguably the cost aspect overrides the other aspects of Vote Leave promises. Vote Leave never once promised to reduce immigration by an number whatsoever. They said they would “control” via a “points system” (which was abandoned days after the result) but never promised any reduction whatsoever. They were however explicit that leaving the EU would be cost free and repeated this in effect every time they used the “£350 Million” message.
Where does this leave Labour? Well it’s very simple – Labour don’t need to oppose Brexit, they just need to say “we support the Brexit Vote Leave promised and people voted for, a Brexit that has no cost to the economy and has no significant impact on jobs”.
When pressed on this (for example on questions such as Single Market & the Customs Union) they could say “look at the polls, no one voted to be poorer, people expect what they were promised. Vote Leave won and therefore Vote Leave’s vision must be implemented”.
If pressed again with the question “but a pain free Brexit is impossible” Labour could answer “Look, Johnson, Leadsom, Gove & others are all still in the cabinet. Davis promised the exact same benefits as we had previously. Theresa May must believe they are competent otherwise they wouldn’t hold Cabinet jobs – so ask them how it’s delivered”
If asked “you are blocking Brexit” the response would be “How are we blocking Brexit if we ask the Government to deliver what people voted for? Labour cannot collude on a hard brexit which will cost people their jobs or impact the economy. The Vote Leave Leadership are in Government. They promised a cost free Brexit, we will support them if they deliver it”.
This position has no cost to Labour and significant benefits. The onus is pushed onto the Government to either deliver an (impossible) cost free Brexit or explain why they can’t. No-one can criticize Labour for demanding what the voters asked for and no majority of voters will say “ah OK, we didn’t realise Vote Leave were lying to us, we’re now happy to accept a very costly Brexit”.
Of course, a cost free, pain free Brexit is impossible – Vote Leave wildly overestimated our bargaining position and/or expected we’d stay in the Single Market. Their rhetoric has locked the Government into an intractable position. But that is their problem because they allowed their foolish leave leaders to promise the unattainable. This is how Brexit dies, the government is forced either to adopt a soft to no Brexit position or to explain to the electorate why Brexit will cost the country dearly. It will choose the former as the least worst option for the Party’s survival.
Labour could do this tomorrow – it would unite the party, protect their constituents and it would fall to the Tory party to explain to Northern Labour marginals why Brexit is actually going to be far more costly than they believe.
It’s a simple, effective, bullet proof message consistent with previously stated Labour policy which would protect the country from the worst excesses of Brexit without damaging the party.
So why aren’t Labour doing it?