Labour’s Brexit betrayal is no surprise – Corbyn’s hunger for power knows no bounds

Labour’s Brexit betrayal is no surprise – Corbyn’s hunger for power knows no bounds

More than twenty months on from the EU referendum, last week voters were expecting some clarity from Jeremy Corbyn on the Labour Party’s Brexit strategy.

Yet whilst the journalists and political anoraks revelled in the talk of clear blue water between the UK Government and Her Majesty’s official opposition, it seems that the memo didn’t quite make it to Cardiff Bay.

This volte-face from Jeremy Corbyn should hardly have come as a surprise. Despite his party’s pro-Brexit manifesto in 2017, Corbyn’s speech was widely trailed ahead of the event – and for several weeks now a steady stream of senior Labour figures have been queueing up to signal a hardening of support for continued membership of a customs union.

So you have to ask why Labour’s Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, chose the same day to visit North America to lobby for precisely the kind of unilateral trade agreement that would be impossible under Labour’s new plans.

It’s absolute chaos. Just hours earlier, Carwyn Jones had indeed landed on US turf, proclaiming the benefits of a free trade deal between the UK and US. By lunchtime, Corbyn’s customs union stance had changed everything, meaning that by mid-afternoon the Welsh Government was now calling for trade negotiations to be handled at a European level.

It’s as though the referendum never happened.

Corbyn was precise in his language, referring to ‘a’ customs union on several occasions. But his speech was so ambiguous as to mean anything. After all, the EU has consistently stated that you are either in ‘the’ Customs Union and bound by its rules – or outside it, and therefore unable to negotiate unilateral trade deals and denied full access to European markets.

What we do know for sure is that Jeremy Corbyn has planted Labour’s flag firmly on so-called ‘soft Brexit’ terrain. It’s a cynical move that could backfire horribly when the millions of voters who supported Labour’s pro-Brexit election manifesto realise they have been conned.

Corbyn’s speech offered no certainty on freedom of movement, on sovereignty or on the negotiation of unilateral trade deals. If he gets his way, there will be no taking back control after Brexit – instead, the UK will be shackled in a painful purgatory. It would be the worst of all possible outcomes.  Contrast that with the clarity of message from the Prime Minister yesterday, whose speech offered little room for doubt that the UK will have a very different relationship with the EU once we have left.

The dilemma for Remain-supporting Conservative MPs will be in resisting Corbyn’s cynical overtures, however tempting.

His hunger for power knows no bounds. This is a man who purged all record of his own pro-Brexit views from the public record when he became Labour leader –  his true feelings about the pernicious influence of the EU power creep sacrificed on the altar of naked ambition.

We mustn’t allow him to grasp the keys to Number 10. Instead, we must work together to forge a positive vision for the UK outside of the European Union and come good on the promises that we made to the people who voted in the referendum. Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech in January 2017 outlined a clear path to Brexit, with the UK leaving the Customs Union and Single Market. Labour has been playing catch-up ever since.

Here in Wales we face the weekly treat of a political establishment stuck in the same old rut, unable or unwilling to accept the referendum result; each week, a new and apparently intractable problem to overcome.

We’ve been told that regulatory divergence would lead to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, compromising the Good Friday Agreement and putting Ulster’s fragile peace at risk. But we know that these claims are nonsense because the Chief Executive of HMRC has consistently advised ministers that there will be no need for physical infrastructure at the border “under any circumstance”. Indeed, the European Parliament has commissioned its own reports which show that technology holds a very simple key to ensuring a smooth border after Brexit.

We’ve also suffered the supercilious grandstanding of Plaid Cymru, whose belief in the benevolence of the Single Market and Customs Union remains undiminished despite the EU’s hostile response to the crisis in Catalonia – and in spite of the irony that independence would surely end Wales’ membership of both.

We need to inject some positivity into the debate. Labour’s cynical shift can allow the Conservative Party to reinvigorate the spirit of opportunity that the referendum uncorked. Leaving the Single Market and Customs Union will enable us to take advantage of the opportunities presented by Brexit – restoring control of our money, trade and borders, and ushering in a new outward-looking era for the United Kingdom.

Instead of trading on scare stories, we must take back control of the narrative and offer the public hope. The UK voted for legal and constitutional independence from the European Union. It’s our duty to deliver it.