Corbyn’s speech and the future on Brexit

According to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn his party wanna stay in the custom union. It seems that Brexit is politically even more complicated for the UK. What kind of effect this Labour stance may have on the government thinking as probably also some Tory Remainers would prefers custom union scenario? Read few comments.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Credit:

Martin Farr, Senior Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary British History, University of Newcastle

The impact of Brexit on the Labour Party is yet another example of how complicated – and how unprecedented – the process and its implications is proving to be.

Europe has always been an issue that most publicly divided the Conservative Party. The Labour Government in 1975 managed its own divisions by holding the first national referendum on whether to stay in. The dilemma for the Conservatives was that during the Thatcher years, the EC evolved into the EU and acquired a social dimension. This served to make ‘Europe’ less palatable to Conservatives, but more palatable for socialists and social democrats.

The exception was the left of the Labour Party, which, effectively led by Tony Benn in the 1980s, was always opposed, partly because it saw ‘Europe’ as a capitalist construct, and partly on the same grounds as those on the right of the Conservative Party: sovereignty. Jeremy Corbyn is from this tradition, and has always had this inclination: Eurosceptic, and, indeed, ‘Lexit’: Brexit from the left.

Corbyn’s ambivalence about the EU was evident during the 2016 refendum campaign. Some have argued that with any other Labour leader since 1975 the party would have been a more wholehearted campaigner for Remain, and the result may have been different. Corbyn’s dilemma ever since has been Labour’s division on the issue: Labour members and parliamentarians were overwhelmingly remain, and are overwhelmingly soft Brexiters, which includes, at the very least, membership of a customs union.

However, Labour voters reflect the Britain reflected in the referendum: older, less urban, less well educated voters supporting leave; younger, more urban, better educated voters wishing to remain. The fear was that a soft Brexit may be presented as ignoring the will of the people as expressed in June 2016, and damaging the party’s reputation with Labour leave voters. The pressing nature of the negotiations however has mean that the leadership – Corbyn and his closest supporters – has had to come down on one side or the other. The prospect of being able to defeat the government has contributed, finally, to a clear line from the Labour Party: membership of a customs union.

As has always been the case, this sees the increasingly marginalised moderate wing of the Conservative Party broadly in agreement with Labour over the issue of Europe. What the public will say if they manage to defeat the government is very hard to predict!

Alex de RuyterProfessor, Director, Centre for Brexit Studies, Business School, Birmingham City University

Jeremy Corbyn stated that Labour want a Customs Union with the EU. This signals a clear break with the UK Government’s stance of not being in a Customs union. However, there are still contradictions here, as the Labour approach to a Customs Union is not that of Turkey, but one whereby they would “work with the EU to co-create the rules” and – according to Shadow Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner – a “Customs Union” where we “have a say in the rules in terms of the third-party arrangements we have with other counties.” It is difficult to see how this wish is likely to be fulfilled outside of continued EU membership.

Labour’s stance to the Single Market is one of wanting to have frictionless access, but still wishing to “co-create the rules”. Mr Corbyn thinks that as a “large economy” we would have some negotiating clout in this regard. I am less sure here, as I think this still sounds like “having the cake and eating it too”. I do think he is sincere in his stated approach of not accepting all EU rulings as he regards provisions on State Aid and competition policy as incompatible with Labour’s wanting to re-nationalise utilities and postal services for example. It remains to be seen how flexible the EU would be here – but personally I think most of his party’s agenda could be accommodated by continued Single Market membership.

Finally, a comment on the Brexit vote being a protest against migration. Mr Corbyn sought to make clear in his speech that migrants were welcome and that the UK was an open multicultural country and that “our diversity” should be celebrated. In stating this he saw Brexit as a “wake-up call” to tackle the inequality and undercutting of working conditions that a flexible labour market had created – and that in this context migrants had been used a source of cheap labour. A Labour government he said would legislate to protect all through stronger employment law (again not incompatible with EU Social provisions).

I think this is a message he could sell to Labour leave voters. i.e., That a Customs Union (if they could achieve this in practice) was a good thing but that Labour would not agree to a deal at any price. It will also serve to sow further division in the UK Government as it is now likely that any Parliamentary vote by Tory “rebels” on staying in a Customs Union would have Labour support. Whether his agenda is deliverable in practice, however, remains to be seen.

Tim BaleProfessor of Politics, Queen Mary, University London

Labour’s declaration won’t produce a change of heart on the part of the government but the parliamentary arithmetic – namely the fact that amendments will attract support from Labour and some Conservative rebels – may mean it has no choice but to accept the need to negotiate some form of customs union. It doesn’t have to accept an advisory vote in parliament but rejecting it would run the risk of MPs voting against the final deal, which would be chaotic, even catastrophic. So this is a big, big deal.

Bill Jones, Senior Honorary Research Fellow,  Liverpool Hope University

Corbyn is basically pro Brexit as he sees the EU as a ‘capitalist club’ favouring the interests of the rich not the workers. In addition many Labour seats in the north were also areas which heavily voted Leave: shifting to oppose Brexit therefore threatens Labour’s MPs. For these reason Labour has mirrored the government’s line that we Brexit should be ‘hard’ and mean leaving the single market and the customs union.  However most Labour MPs and party members and business interests want a ‘soft’ Brexit- as closely aligned to the present as possible. Hitherto Labour has been opposed to staying in the Customs Union but today Corbyn has announced a desire to establish an agreement whereby we stay in some kind of customs union.

This means Labour is now offering a home for supporters of ‘soft Brexit’ and will probably vote with Tory opponents of Brexit like Anna Soubry, Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve. If this happens on a future amendment pledging the government to stay in a customs union, Theresa May does not have the votes in  the Commons to defeat such a rebellion if fully supported by Labour.

If she is defeated it might trigger a new leadership election as Brexit supporters will go mad if current policy of leaving CU is reversed. So- hope you’ve followed all this- today’s announcement by Corbyn might well set in motion a series of events leading to her being chucked out of government!

Philip Cowley, Professor of Politics, Queen Mary, University of London

I doubt this will have any effect thinking on government – at least not directly – but it might affect Parliament, because there is probably a majority in the House of Commons for a deal which includes a customs union, regardless of what the government thinks.


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