Labour held the line on the single market; now the Tories have a duty to sort out their affairs and ensure a clean Brexit

Labour held the line on the single market; now the Tories have a duty to sort out their affairs and ensure a clean Brexit

The attempt to derail the Labour Party into a commitment to stay in the single market has failed. The most significant event at the Labour party conference was not Jeremy Corbyn’s speech or anything that actually happened; it was what didn’t happen. Delegates refused to be drawn into debating and voting on a motion calling for the UK to remain in the single market. There was a majority in favour and had a vote been taken, it would have been carried. But delegates had the good sense to follow the lead given by Corbyn and McDonnell and refuse to make the motion a priority.

In spite of the media giving the open letter by 50-odd MPs, MEPs and assorted dyed-in-the-wool Remainers the publicity it did not deserve, and an EU flag-waving march along the Brighton seafront, the Labour leadership held the line comfortably. There was a similar EU flag-waving march in Manchester at the start of the Tory conference. It was as if those involved wished to show the extent of their delusions and how out of step they are with the public mood, much like someone waving the Union Jack in Delhi on the eve of India’s independence in 1948.

The survival instinct of the delegates will serve them and the Labour Party well when it comes to the next general election. They subordinated their personal desires and individual hang-ups to the collective will of workers. Had Labour pinned its colours to the single market and reneged on the commitment given in the 2017 manifesto to end the free movement of labour, it would haemorrhage support with no hope of retaining its share of the vote, let alone increasing it at any future election. It was workers asserting their authority on a party they created to serve their cause, which for decades failed to do so.

This was a victory for the overwhelming majority of people, those who voted to Leave and those who voted to Remain, who want to get on with it and, like many such victories, it camouflaged itself into a compromise, a hollow and meaningless compromise in which Conference agreed to keep the option of staying in the single market open.

But it is not a question of closing this or that option; some options close themselves by virtue of incompatibility. Staying in the single market is as much an option as Stockholm is for a couple who, having got married on a New Year’s Day wished to spend their honeymoon in a hot and sunny resort. Our newlyweds kept all their options open, but Stockholm did not feature as a possibility because it fell afoul of the requirements of hot and sunny in January. It is incompatible with their declared wishes. So it is with the single market; it is incompatible with the declared wishes of the British people to leave the EU, take back control and reclaim the ability to provide state aid to industry, to run a national deficit outside that decreed by the EU’s growth and stability pact and to take utility companies into public ownership, not to mention ending the free movement of labour.

Labour carried its duty and held the line on the single market. The Tory Party, being the governing party, has even a greater duty to sort out its affairs and ensure a clean Brexit. Hyper-egos and personal ambitions coupled with a desire to placate the EU and undermine the essence of Brexit that seem to punctuate and obstruct the government’s policy on Brexit do not fill one with confidence.

No one person owns Brexit, not Boris Johnson, nor Philip Hammond, not anyone else. The British people own Brexit and they are in the driving seat. Otherwise, how can you explain an overwhelmingly Remain Parliament voting overwhelmingly to trigger Article 50 and a largely pro-single market Labour party dumping and relegating the issue to the sidelines. This is why Parliament will, at the final vote, pass the EU Withdrawal Bill with a large majority.

Though Labour and Tories sing different tunes on Brexit, they are reading from the same hymn sheet, the text of which is written and signed off by workers.

The public will not support an obstructionist approach to the negotiations with the EU, but neither will they accept capitulations and surrender. Bluster and threats of walking away are not the British way. Bluster and threats are the stock-in-trade of a bully, a bully who has been cornered and whose weaknesses exposed. That’s why these tactics are constantly deployed by the EU, from Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier to the toothless EU Parliament. If there is to be a breakdown in negotiations, and such a prospect looks more likely given the fear that a successful negotiation would tempt other member states to leave the EU, let it be the EU’s doing.