What Labour’s manifesto says about Brexit

What Labour’s manifesto says about Brexit

“Labour accepts the referendum result and a Labour government will put the national interest first.”


Labour’s General Election 2017 manifesto has officially been published today, after an earlier draft was leaked to the press last week. There are only minor changes in areas of Brexit policy – you can read Jonathan Isaby’s original analysis of Labour’s draft Brexit commitments here.

The key line of the manifesto on Brexit is that Labour will reject ‘no deal’ as an option in the Brexit talks:

  • “Labour recognises that leaving the EU with ‘no deal’ is the worst possible deal for Britain and that it would do damage to our economy and trade. We will reject ‘no deal’ as a viable option and if needs be negotiate transitional arrangements to avoid a ‘cliff-edge’ for the UK economy.

The phrase “if needs be” has also been added in the final version of the manifesto. This leaves unanswered questions about what Labour’s policy would be in the event of ‘no deal’. Would Labour seek an indefinite transitional arrangement while they tried to negotiate a different deal, which could run the risk of becoming semi-permanent? Or would they simply decide to remain in the EU and reverse the referendum result altogether, in the event that no deal was possible and transitional arrangements were deemed not to be “needed”? Some clarity is needed from Labour on this point if they are to avoid accusations that they are leaving open a back door to remaining in the EU.

Labour’s broad priorities in the Brexit negotiations are stated as:

  • jobs and living standards
  • building a close new relationship with the EU
  • protecting workers’ rights and environmental standards
  • providing certainty to EU nationals
  • giving a meaningful role to Parliament throughout negotiations

The manifesto confirms that Labour would:

  • “scrap the Conservatives’ Brexit White Paper and replace it with fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union”
  • “drop the Conservatives’ Great Repeal Bill, replacing it with an EU Rights and Protections Bill that will ensure there is no detrimental change to workers’ rights, equality law, consumer rights or environmental protections as a result of Brexit”
  • “make sure that all derived laws that are of benefit – including workplace laws, consumer rights and environmental protections – are fully protected without qualifications,  limitations or sunset clauses”

Labour is making a priority of retaining arrangements close to the status quo with the Single Market and Customs Union. They are also putting a strong emphasis on workers’ rights and environmental protections. However, there is no mention of more fundamental legal issues, such as whether Labour would be prepared to accept the continued jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union in exchange for a Brexit deal.

  • “immediately guarantee existing rights for all EU nationals living in Britain and secure reciprocal rights for UK citizens who have chosen to make their lives in EU countries”

This pledge is problematic as it is not within the power of the UK government to unilaterally “secure reciprocal rights” for UK citizens living in the EU. This is something which has to be negotiated with the European Union.

  • “[secure] continued EU market access allowing British farmers and food producers to continue to sell their products on the Continent”

Labour has added in two new paragraphs specifically on agricultural issues, although the pledge appears to have fallen victim to the common confusion over “access” to the single market, implying that farmers would not be able to sell products at all on the Continent in the event of ‘no deal’.

  • “introduce a ‘presumption of devolution’ where devolved powers transferred from the EU will go straight to the relevant region or nation”
  • “ensure there is no drop in EU Structural Funding as a result of Brexit until the end of the current EU funding round in 2019/20”
  • “ensure that no region or nation of the UK is affected by the withdrawal of EU funding for the remainder of this Parliament. This will also apply to the funding of peace and reconciliation projects in Northern Ireland”

There are several paragraphs in the manifesto devoted to issues of devolution and regional structural funding, which Labour will be hoping will help to boost their regional appeal.

There are also a range of further pledges on which there is likely to be broad cross-party agreement, including continuing to collaborate with the EU on research and security and maintaining the status of Gibraltar and the Northern Irish border:

  • “seek to maintain membership of (or equivalent relationships with) European organisations which offer benefits to the UK such as Euratom and the European Medicines Agency”
  • “[seek] to stay part of Horizon 2020 and its successor programmes”
  • “work constructively with the EU and other European nations on issues such as climate change, refugee crises and counter-terrorism”
  • “introduce legislation to ensure there are no gaps in national security and criminal justice arrangements as a result of Brexit”
  • “seek to retain membership of [cross-border agencies such as Eurojust and Europol] and continue European Arrest Warrant arrangements”
  • “ensure there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and that there is no change in the status or sovereignty of Gibraltar”

The section of the manifesto on immigration has been fleshed out, and Labour now makes the key pledge that “Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union.” The manifesto goes on to say that the new system “may include employer sponsorship, work permits, visa regulations or a tailored mix of all these”.

Labour have also pledged to remove international students from migration figures, saying that they “are not permanent residents and we will not include them in immigration numbers”.

In addition, the manifesto proposes to:

  • “distinguish between migrant labour and family attachment”
  • “replace income thresholds with a prohibition on recourse to public funds”
  • “stop overseas-only recruitment practices”
  • “reinstate the Migrant Impact Fund and boost it with a contributory element from the investments required for High Net Worth Individual Visas”

The section of the manifesto on international trade is substantially the same as in the leaked draft, with the exception of two new paragraphs, one of which pledges to “work with devolved administrations to bring forward an integrated trade and industrial strategy”. The second new paragraph commits the UK to rejoining the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Government Procurement Agreement, which the UK is currently part of by virtue of being an EU member, rather than in its own right.

The manifesto also promises to:

  • “bring forward an integrated trade and industrial strategy that boosts exports, investment and decent jobs in Britain”.
  • “ensure proper transparency and parliamentary scrutiny of all future trade and investment deals”
  • “work with global trading partners to develop ‘best-in-class’ free trade and investment agreements that remove trade barriers and promote skilled jobs and high standards”
  • “ensure all future trade deals safeguard the right to regulate in the public interest and to protect public services” and “ensure that trade agreements cannot undermine human rights and labour standards”
  • “work with other WTO members to end the dumping of state-subsidised goods on our markets” and “develop the full range of trade remedies necessary to support key sectors affected”
  • “champion the export interests of SMEs, ensuring all new trade agreements include a commitment to support their market access needs”
  • “support international negotiations towards an Environmental Goods Agreement at the WTO” and “use trade negotiations to boost market access for British environmental goods and services, alongside support for investment into new green technologies and innovative low-carbon products”
  • “review our historic investment treaties with other countries, ensuring they are fit for purpose for the 21st century”
  • “oppose parallel investor-state dispute systems for multinational corporations”

Labour’s opposition to Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is significant as arguments over ISDS have overshadowed the EU’s recent CETA trade deal with Canada and the stalled TTIP deal with the USA. The EU is likely to demand some form of ISDS as part of any post-Brexit trade deal with the UK, so this could be a potential point of conflict in the negotiations if Labour are elected.