The Labour Party urgently needs to address what kind of Brexit deal it would seek from Brussels

The Labour Party urgently needs to address what kind of Brexit deal it would seek from Brussels

It may be that the General Election next month will produce a working majority for the Conservatives. It will then, no doubt, be government policy to implement the Brexit deal negotiated with Brussels by Boris Johnson last month.

It is quite possible that this will not happen. Instead, we may well find that we are left with a House of Commons with a majority made up of parties opposed to Brexit, combined with a number of Tories with Remain sympathies. It is difficult to see a stable government emerging from this outcome, but there may be sufficient consensus among all these Remain supporters for holding a second referendum, despite the principled objections from all Leave supporters, as the only way of bringing Brexit to a conclusion. If this happens, it may well be that Labour’s policy of having two options on the ballot paper, one being a revised deal and the other being Remain, will become Government strategy.

The Remain camp wants this outcome because they think that the electorate will vote to stay in the EU. But this is what they thought in 2016 – and they may well be wrong again. This is why we need to start thinking hard now about what the Leave option ought to be if a second referendum takes place.

It may well be that the result will be a win for the Leave option, so both we, as a country, and the Labour Party as potentially the driving force in Parliament after the election, had better get it right.

The danger is that Labour puts forward a full Remain option with the alternative being such a half-hearted Brexit option that few people will want to support, thus pushing everyone towards voting Remain. This would be a democratic travesty. Instead, we need a proper Leave option, which has a greater chance of succeeding.

Why might Leave well win? There are several obvious reasons. There was a majority for Leave in 2016 and not many people have changed their minds since then. There are democratic arguments, which both many Remainers and Leavers respect, that we made a decision in 2016 and it is unfair to hold referendum after referendum until Remain wins.

The arguments which persuaded people to vote to Leave in 2016 are still current: our heavy £11 billion annual net budget contribution, the Common Agricultural and Common Fisheries Policies which almost no-one in the UK supports, the supremacy of the European Court of Justice over UK law, control of immigration, and the big issues around control and democratic accountability, let alone the EU direction of travel towards a European super-state.

If we stay in the EU, we may also get railroaded into joining the euro and having to adopt Schengen free movement. There is no guarantee that the EU is going to want a half-hearted member state like the UK back in their club on particularly favourable terms.

So, what might a Labour-negotiated deal with Brussels look like? There are a lot of potential positives. We could ensure workplace, consumer and environmental protections were equal or better than anything the EU had to offer. We could implement a generous citizenship policy. If we kept out of the Customs Union and the Single Market, we would be much freer than we are now for Labour to implement radical changes to the way the economy is run.

We don’t need to be in the Customs Union to trade with the EU and there are multiple disadvantages to being caught up in it, as Turkey has found to its cost. Instead, we should secure our trading relationship with the EU by negotiating the same sort of free trade deal as agreed with Canada.

At the same time, we could secure our money, our laws and our trade, and ensure our borders were under our own control. We would not have to pay £11 billion a year net for the privilege of EU membership and we would not have to be part of any scheme to centralise power on the continent of Europe and place more power in the hands of unelected Commissioners.

None of this would stop us cooperating with our European neighbours in a myriad of different ways. These include cooperation on anti-terrorism and combating criminal activities, battling climate change and tax avoidance, promoting education programmes, partnering together on transnational research and development projects, and making sure that the benefits of free movement in terms of travel and residence were kept in place while avoiding the pitfalls of allowing too much migration which destabilises communities.

There are big pluses for Labour in taking this approach to a fair ballot. A programme along these lines would appeal to a large number of Leave-leaning traditional Labour supporters, hopefully leading to the possibility of the Party allowing – and even encouraging – members and supporters to campaign freely for either Leave or Remain, as it did in 1975. The Labour Party leadership itself might insist on campaigning for Remain, but it badly needs to keep a door open to the millions of Labour voters who do not share their enthusiasm for remaining in the EU.

Up until now, it seems that we have not given much thought to what a Labour Brexit deal might look like. This could be a big mistake. A Labour Brexit option may well be what we find the majority of the country voting for in 2020.