Let Labour do a deal – or give the peo­ple an­other vote

The Guardian - Journal - - Front page - Jeremy Cor­byn Jeremy Cor­byn is the leader of the Labour party

The botched Brexit deal that Theresa May has put to par­lia­ment this week is a mon­u­men­tal and dam­ag­ing fail­ure for our coun­try. In­stead of the sen­si­ble agree­ment the prime min­is­ter could have ne­go­ti­ated, it is a worst-of-all­worlds deal that works for no­body, whether they voted leave or re­main. In­stead of tak­ing back con­trol, it gives up con­trol. In­stead of pro­tect­ing jobs and liv­ing stan­dards, it puts them at risk by fail­ing to put in place the ba­sis for fric­tion­less trade. For two and a half years the Con­ser­va­tives have been ne­go­ti­at­ing with them­selves, rather than the Euro­pean Union. The re­sult has been a lock­down with­drawal agree­ment, which ties Bri­tain ei­ther into ex­tend­ing the tran­si­tion phase at un­known cost – or tips us into a lop­sided back­stop agree­ment from which there is no in­de­pen­dent exit. As the le­gal ad­vice the prime min­is­ter tried to pre­vent us from see­ing this week spells out, the back­stop would “en­dure in­def­i­nitely” with­out the say-so of the EU.

What that means in prac­tice is that the wish list of the gov­ern­ment’s “fu­ture part­ner­ship” agree­ment with the EU would re­main just that, with­out the lever­age to get a long-term and ef­fec­tive trade deal. Mean­while, Bri­tain would have no say in ei­ther its own cus­toms ar­range­ments or key mar­ket reg­u­la­tions. While work­ers’ rights would be al­lowed to fall be­hind, re­stric­tions on state aid to in­dus­try would be locked in.

May claims this is just an in­sur­ance pol­icy. But it’s now clear the back­stop is at the heart of her deal. It would leave Bri­tain with no say in a hu­mil­i­at­ing half­way house which we couldn’t leave with­out the EU’s per­mis­sion. This dread­ful deal must be de­feated when it is put to the vote next week. We are work­ing with MPs and par­ties across the House of Com­mons not only to en­sure it is re­jected, but also to pre­vent any pos­si­bil­ity of a no-deal out­come.

But its de­feat can­not be taken for granted. In an ef­fort to drag Tory MPs back on­side, May is claim­ing that de­feat for her deal means no deal or no Brexit, be­cause there is no vi­able al­ter­na­tive. That is false. Labour’s al­ter­na­tive plan would un­lock the ne­go­ti­a­tions for our fu­ture re­la­tion­ship with the EU and al­low us to move away from such a dam­ag­ing back­stop.

A new, com­pre­hen­sive cus­toms union with the EU, with a Bri­tish say in fu­ture trade deals, would strengthen our man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor and give us a solid base for in­dus­trial re­newal un­der the next Labour gov­ern­ment. It would re­move the threat of dif­fer­ent parts of the UK be­ing sub­ject to sep­a­rate reg­u­la­tions. And it would deal with the large ma­jor­ity of prob­lems the back­stop is de­signed to solve.

Sec­ond, a new and strong re­la­tion­ship with the sin­gle mar­ket that gives us fric­tion­less trade, and the free­dom to re­build our econ­omy and ex­pand our pub­lic ser­vices – while set­ting mi­gra­tion poli­cies to meet the needs of the econ­omy, not fu­elling xeno­pho­bia with phoney im­mi­gra­tion tar­gets or thresh­olds – makes far more sense than the prime min­is­ter’s dis­mal deal.

Lastly, we want to see guar­an­tees that ex­ist­ing EU rights at work, en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards and con­sumer pro­tec­tions will be­come a bench­mark to build on – not fall be­hind and un­der­cut other coun­tries at our peo­ple’s ex­pense. These rights and pro­tec­tions, whether on chlo­ri­nated chicken or paid hol­i­days, are what peo­ple ac­tu­ally want. But the gov­ern­ment is de­ter­mined to trade them away in a race to the bot­tom.

Labour has very dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties. Our al­ter­na­tive plan would en­sure an open bor­der in Ire­land, pro­vide se­cu­rity for in­vest­ment, give our man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor a spring­board for re­newal, en­sure we have the pow­ers to re­build our econ­omy and pub­lic ser­vices and guar­an­tee world-beat­ing sup­port for work­ers, con­sumers and our en­vi­ron­ment. We are ab­so­lutely com­mit­ted to in­ter­na­tion­al­ist co­op­er­a­tion and anti-racist sol­i­dar­ity across Europe, in or out of the EU, and de­ter­mined to en­sure op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents to study in other coun­tries are pro­tected.

Un­like the Nor­way-plus op­tion now be­ing can­vassed, our plan would not leave Bri­tain as an across-the-board rule-taker of EU reg­u­la­tions with­out a say. It’s a plan that can be ne­go­ti­ated with the EU, even at this late stage, with most of the build­ing blocks al­ready in place. The EU has shown it is pre­pared to rene­go­ti­ate even more com­plex agree­ments than this, such as the Lis­bon treaty. And ours is a plan I be­lieve could com­mand a ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment and bring the coun­try to­gether.

The stakes could not be higher. If the prime min­is­ter’s deal is de­feated, the gov­ern­ment will have lost its ma­jor­ity on the most im­por­tant is­sue fac­ing the coun­try and lost its abil­ity to gov­ern. The best out­come then would be to let the coun­try de­cide on the way ahead and the best team to lead it. That means a gen­eral elec­tion.

In the past, a de­feat of such se­ri­ous­ness as May now faces would have meant an au­to­matic elec­tion. But if un­der the cur­rent rules we can­not get an elec­tion, all op­tions must be on the ta­ble. Those should in­clude Labour’s al­ter­na­tive and, as our con­fer­ence de­cided in Septem­ber, the op­tion of cam­paign­ing for a pub­lic vote to break the dead­lock. Two years ago, peo­ple voted re­main be­cause they wanted an open re­la­tion­ship with Europe and a mul­ti­cul­tural so­ci­ety. Many voted leave out of anger at the way the po­lit­i­cal class had left them be­hind, with crum­bling in­fra­struc­ture and low-paid, in­se­cure jobs. Our job is to unite peo­ple with a plan that works for the whole coun­try.

Given the de­ci­sions taken in par­lia­ment this week, it should now be eas­ier to build sup­port for an al­ter­na­tive plan to bring the coun­try to­gether. The gov­ern­ment’s deal must not stand. In those cir­cum­stances par­lia­ment has shown it is ready to take con­trol, and Labour will give the lead­er­ship the coun­try needs.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: MARK DUFFY/UK PAR­LIA­MENT/PA

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