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Brexit negotiations under Theresa May took a chaotic turn when her Chequers proposal split her cabinet, leading to the resignation of David Davis among others, and the appointment of Dominic Raab in his place as the new Brexit secretary. What is the opposition’s stance on Brexit? Is Jeremy Corbyn offering a clear, alternative Brexit strategy?
The recent histrionics and bickering among the Conservative party has created an opportunity for Labour to present themselves as the steady hand ready to steer the rocky Brexit ship. But are they presenting a clear Brexit plan to get on board with?
Brexit Under Corbyn
For Corbynites, Labour’s stance on Brexit is one that favours access to the single market, but avoids any elements which could undermine trade deals.
This is ultimately being selective in what Britain can have through the deal, and has been referred to as a form of idealism or “cakeism” in which only certain aspects are retained.
Corbyn has also defended the Customs Union in which there are no internal tariffs as goods are transferred smoothly between European nations without high prices attached to them.
“Labour would seek a final deal that gives full access to European markets and maintains the benefits of a single market customs union, as the [former] Brexit secretary David Davis promised in the House of Commons with no new impediments to trade and no reduction in rights standards and protections,” he said.
The Labour leader has also refused to rule out the potential for a second referendum on Brexit, giving the general public a say on the matter if negotiations cannot be successfully concluded under Theresa May’s government.
During Prime Minister’s Questions at the beginning of June, the Labour leader criticised key documents being delayed as well as the cancellation of customs proposals.
“When it comes to Brexit, this government has delivered more delays and more cancellations than Northern Rail,” Corbyn said.
While quick to criticise the government’s “shambles” over Brexit, Corbyn has also come in for criticism himself over his Brexit stance.
Most recently, General Secretary of Unite the Union (Britain’s biggest trade union), Len McCluskey, suggested that a second referendum over Brexit would be a disaster because Labour are trying to force the matter too much.
He told ITV: “If Labour started campaigning for a second referendum, it would be a disaster because we have had a vote. When you have a referendum, you have to abide by the results.”
“In my opinion, there are circumstances where the Labour party would consider trying to press for whatever deal, going back to the people, for the people to vote. Not for whether they want to stay in Europe, they’ve already voted on that.”
He suggests Corbyn’s Brexit stance is entirely reactive in a bid to win over the general public. McCluskey also criticised the wider Labour Party for not clarifying their position on Brexit.
After Labour decided not to challenge the government over membership of the European Economic Area (EEA)-which would see the UK replicate Norway for the benefit of the single market-Chris Leslie criticised Corbyn’s decision.
The Labour and Co-operative MP for Nottingham East said: “I think there is still time for the Labour leadership to reflect on this but the idea that we would abstain on such a crucial issue means taking responsibility for the job losses and austerity in the decades ahead.”
Corbyn opposed this because he believed EEA membership would result in Britain being enforced into following EU state-aid rules. This means that Britain would be subjected to selective advantages dictated by the European Union, which could mean unfavourable state resources being provided.
Opposition to the European Economic Area has therefore dictated Corbyn’s stance and means he is not entirely willing to compromise easily and efficiently with the European Union if it means Britain is led down the wrong path.
The Labour leader’s spokesman told the Independent that EEA membership includes the possibility for multiple types of relationship, which is not what the Party wants.
“We will be pressing the case in the Commons, as the leadership has done in the House of Lords, for a new relationship with the EU, a close relationship with the EU, which is based on a close relationship with the single market,” he said.
Corbyn has been clear on his support of the Customs Union and his stance against the European Economic Area, although he has faced criticism from Labour members for his stance on the latter. However, he has been less clear on whether he supports a hard or soft Brexit, with some claiming he does not want to antagonise remainers by following through with his ‘true’ beliefs.
Perhaps Corbyn is only interested in Brexit as a tool to topple the Tories. The Labour leader has pressed Theresa May to publish her white paper on Brexit as a means of exploiting it. But could be making a wise move by stepping back to see how the negotiations develop before committing fully. On the other hand, he may need to sharpen up his position at the risk of alienating members of his own Party.