When it comes to a customs union, Labour Remainers are playing semantic games

When it comes to <i>a</i> customs union, Labour Remainers are playing semantic games

Expect a few weeks of semantics as the Brexit battle becomes a contest between British naïveté and EU hypocrisy. Naïveté is a long standing British economic attitude, amplified now as unprecedented party splits incapacitate both Labour and the Conservatives, making it difficult for the British government to do anything.

The hypocrisy is all European. We’re pragmatic. They’re legalistic. So they’ve produced an EU system where self-interest is defined by law. General rules can be fiddled, but only surreptitiously. This allows the euro-cronies to trap the naïve Brits in entanglements so difficult that the people who’ve voted for Brexit will eventually prefer to die rather than leave.

In this they have the help of our militant Remainers. They do the EU’s dirty work for them by announcing what the EU wants and assuring us we’ll never get it – by publishing dodgy dossiers of terrifying disasters to come from leaving – and by encouraging the EU to make things as difficult as possible by refusing concessions, imposing hurdles, dragging out negotiations and rejecting the compromises allowed to loyal members.

The aim of this cross-channel conspiracy is to persuade our electorate they’ve made a terrible mistake and give up their stupid desire to leave as just too much trouble. Suitably humiliated, they are helped to understand by a bus promising £20 million a week and EU reform as a prize for staying. Maybe.

Labour’s Remainers are particularly good at all this. As middle-class intellectuals they know how stupid Labour’s voters and regions can be. So their aim is simple: stay in the single market and the customs union as a way of leaving while staying, providing the incidental advantage that it also makes John McDonnell’s dangerous plans to rebalance the economy, aid for industry, trade with food producers and revitalising of the regions impossible.

So, Jeremy Corbyn has been forced back from his Euroscepticism by the merry band of Chuka, Sir Keir, Tony and the others who didn’t want him as leader in the first place. He’s being persuaded that Britain should stay in a customs union. Which is where the semantics come in. A union is not the same as the customs union and much less restrictive than the single market where they hope to stay.

Clever move. But not what the legalistic EU either wants or is likely to give. It’s a special arrangement designed to suit a naughty rebel and not something a legalistic monolith keeping 27 members in line will find it easy to accept. Much better to push Labour into the trap of staying in the union, then hope that Labour’s votes can defeat the Government’s efforts to stay out. It could even bring the Tories down and force Labour to betray the electorate.

It might work. It would certainly make Britain a more quiescent EU member, and could even teach our prejudiced electorate a valuable lesson, even though it permits nothing to restructure our flagging economy, stop the steady drain of jobs, companies and industrial strength to Europe and protect our borders. Yet whether it can make the people happy to be betrayed is less certain. Tony Blair thinks the party of the people can betray the people. I’m not so sure.