Where is Labour’s Brexit vision?

Where is Labour’s Brexit vision?

A clean break from the European Union would allow the Labour Party to pursue a sweeping policy agenda which it is hitherto prevented from doing. The leadership should not have simply followed Theresa May by only half-heartedly pledging to deliver Brexit. Leave voters were driven by an optimistic vision for this great country and will respond to those who share that vision. An extensive agenda, looking beyond the current negotiations to what can be achieved outside the Single Market and Customs Union, should have been be pursued.

The likelihood of such an outcome is looking increasingly unlikely due to the Labour leadership’s peculiar embrace of ‘a’ Customs Union with the EU, and the near constant calls for Single Market membership from the backbenches. It is, however, worthwhile setting out the opportunities which could be available to a left-wing government if Labour came to power, were they to have the courage and conviction to fully honour the EU referendum result.

As both sides of the House of Commons continue to slug it out over the minutiae of divorce talks with Brussels, the Labour Party’s role as opposition could have been employed to emphasise what awaits us beyond the confines of the EU. A vision for comprehensive change was possible, as policy areas currently out of reach would have been unlocked, enabling the party to offer the people something markedly different.

In 2015 we saw the electorate cry out for action as the SSI plant in Redcar collapsed. Government backing for those hundreds of manufacturing jobs lost would have garnered wholesale support. Yet, our current membership of the Single Market prevented our elected representatives from intervening, and the plant suffered as a result. The same was the case more recently, when British De La Rue lost out during on a lucrative contract to produce the UK’s new passports during the EU mandated tender process.

In both these cases – and plenty more – EU rules on State Aid have prevented the desired action from taking place. Whilst it is unlikely the Conservative Government would have stepped in, the fact that a Corbyn-led administration would have been unable to do anything to protect workers and their communities only highlights the current restraints on British sovereignty. It falls on Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour figures to begin outlining why it is necessary to regain control over our industrial strategy.

However, during his speech last month setting out the “Build in Britain” campaign, the best that Corbyn could muster was a pledge to seek “exemptions and clarifications” on the rulebook – a system which would be entirely at the EU’s bequest! The causation between EU membership and government industrial inaction needs to be made clearer by the Labour leadership – as doing so would help explain why leaving behind the Single Market is a must.

When it comes to supporting British manufacturing, leaving the Customs Union would provide a benefit frequently ignored by many. As economies such as China and India begin to see a burgeoning middle class, the demand for higher quality products simultaneously increases. By having multiple FTAs in place, the lure for companies wanting simple concurrent access to these markets will be too great to resist. The chance to become a pivot in global trade, with trade deals from east to west, is there – as is the domestic political momentum to establish such a unique position on the world stage. In effect, trade deals are a carrot, with which a Labour Government would be able to entice companies and corporations to invest in the United Kingdom – and our workforce.

Indeed, trade deals can also create British-orientated supply chains. FTAs contain ‘rules of origin’ provisions, which stipulate a certain percentage of a product must be domestically manufactured or produced, for it to qualify as exportable. The upside of this is it will encourage large companies to look for smaller British enterprises to compile their supply chains, instead of always looking abroad. A process of ‘reshoring’ would promote greater financial backing for the UK workforce, and would provide a fertile environment for British start-ups. Multinationals which have come to Britain owing to its lubricated trading arrangements with an array of nations, will be more than happy to look for domestic suppliers given that the commercial benefits of being situated in the fulcrum of global trade vastly outweigh any increased spending.

Regrettably, it has become too easy for Labour Europhiles, such as Chuka Umunna, to present the EU as a bastion of workers’ rights. Claims that without Brussels we would all be forced to work ungodly hours and would not be entitled to paid holidays go unchallenged, whilst providing ample cover for those who are hesitant to declare their real views.

With just one simple example, the reality of the situation becomes apparent: EU rules entitle a worker to 20 days’ paid holiday. The UK has gone further and increased the number to 28. Britain has always been a world leader in workers’ rights and our ambitions frequently exceed those of European Commissioners. By remaining within the Single Market and the Customs Union, however, the current bog of inertia would continue to envelop our policy makers. Our elected legislators rarely debate issues on workers’ rights and it is because they assume it is all taken care of at a European level.

Swiftly ‘Leaving’ the European Union takes away this comfort blanket from MPs and will force them to decide on the appropriate level of backing British workers receive. A Corbyn-led government would be ideally placed to pursue an extensive programme which reinforces existing provisions.

A Labour Party not afraid to Get Britain Out of the EU would be able to protect the jobs of workers in vulnerable industries, induce a system of investment in British workers, help establish greater opportunities for embryonic enterprises, and buttress existing rights in the workplace. As it stands, however, both the courage and the ambition are lacking.