By Matt Willgress
It has often felt since the EU Referendum that Jeremy Corbyn and Labour can please nobody when it comes to Brexit. This is despite the fact that, as the commentator Maya Goodfellow put it in December 2017, “Labour didn’t cause Brexit, is not in charge of it and yet the party has the shrewdest position.”
In fact, since 2016, the central point of the Labour leader’s stance has been clear.
Labour has always been opposed to the Tory idea of a ‘bargain basement,’ tax-haven Britain post-Brexit, where Brexit is used to make the current inequalities and insecurities facing people even worse.
The priority – emphasised again and again – is to protect jobs and living standards and a rejection of any race to the bottom in workers’ rights, environmental safeguards, consumer protections or food safety standards.
This political approach led to defeating May’s deal three times. It is also the basis on which Labour has opposed a no-deal Brexit – or as Jeremy calls it a ‘Trump Brexit’ – which would mean US corporations getting the green light for a comprehensive takeover of our public services.
And if Theresa May’s Brexit deal was rejected on this basis, then Boris Johnson’s certainly should be, with the Government itself confirming to the Brexit Select Committee that previous commitments to level playing field provisions on workers’ rights will no longer apply (see Pat McFadden MP’s tweet here.) Astonishingly, they instead suggest that we should all now trust this hard-right government in this area.
In Jeremy’s words, the proposals in Johnson’s deal “risk triggering a race to the bottom on rights and protections: putting food safety at risk, cutting environmental standards and workers’ rights, and opening up our NHS to a takeover by US private corporations.”
Trade unions are taking the same line , with GMB General Secretary Tim Roache tweeting that “The Tories are desperate for a Brexit deal that enables them to slash workers rights and introduce a race to the bottom,” adding that “MPs should “look at the full impact on jobs, industry, communities of any Johnson ‘deal’ before they vote for it.”
The 2016 referendum result has been hi-jacked by the hard-right who rather than taking back control of our economy and public services are happy to sell-off our public services to multi-national corporations. As usual, they are putting private profit before the living standards of the majority and our public services.
From a left perspective we also need to be clear that Johnson’s deal ties us into a reactionary neo-liberal framework.
Rather than the Tories approach that will keep the country divided and polarised, as Jeremy said in his Conference speech, “We need to get Brexit sorted and do it in a way that doesn’t leave our economy or our democracy broken.”
The way Labour proposes to do this is to negotiate the best deal possible for people’s jobs, living standards and the economy. This means explicitly guaranteeing the rights and protections that Boris Johnson refuses to – including in terms of workers’ rights and environmental standards.
In contrast to the neo-liberal Tories – who are more than happy lock us into a deregulatory framework and seek to tie the hands of a future Labour government by limiting its ability to intervene into the free market to transform our economy – Labour could also seek to negotiate protections, clarifications or exemptions where necessary in relation to privatisation and public service competition directives, state aid and procurement rules, and on areas such as the posted workers directive.
Such a deal is also deliverable. As Steve Howell has noted, “EU leaders have, on several occasions, indicated that such a deal is of interest, and it’s obvious why: not only is it in their interests to retain access to the UK market, it also eliminates the competitive threat of having a low-wage, low-standards economy on their doorstep, in turn making the backstop redundant.”
It would allow a credible leave option that could put the living standards and rights of the majority of people first, unlike Johnson’s deal or a hard-right ‘no-deal’ departure.
Jeremy Corbyn is then clear in this situation that Labour would “end the Brexit crisis by taking the decision back to the people with the choice of a credible leave deal alongside remain,” as he believes that “after three and a half years of Tory Brexit failure and division, the only way we can settle this issue and bring people back together is by taking the decision out of the hands of politicians and letting the people decide.”
This should be a position that Labour members who are both for leaving on a progressive basis and remaining can unite around.
That unity is crucial – because the priority has to be defeating Boris Johnson and getting rid of this Government as soon as possible so we can win a general election, end austerity and begin implementing our programme to transform people’s lives.
To get to this position, we need to defeat Johnson’s deal. To support it would not offer a path to a progressive, Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government or show that Labour wishes to protect the living standards of the majority.
Labour’s focus on living standards when it comes to the issue of why Boris Johnson’s deal should be opposed is also clearly in line with the central goal of our 2017 manifesto ‘For the many, not the few,’ which articulated Labour’s clear alternative economic strategy based on investment in our future.
An even more transformative economic alternative to this Government will also be the basis for our campaign in the general election where we must get the discussion onto how we are going to improve people’s lives.
We already have an unprecedented depression in living standards, record food bank use, child mortality rates rising in the poorest areas, and homelessness at a level which can only be described as a national scandal.
Again and again the Tories have acted to make life worse for the overwhelming majority of people down– both leave and remain voters- with their failure to invest in our future, approach to the Brexit negotiations and inaction on our climate emergency. These are three national crises that threaten our future and only Labour can address.
Now, as the Conservatives try to rescue their coalition of misery with the DUP, the clear focus of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour on prioritising living standards is the only way which can deliver for the majority. And to do this, we need to get rid of this Government and have a General Election.
And on the vote on Johnson’s deal let’s give the final word to Jeremy – “This sell out deal won’t bring the country together and should be rejected.”