Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn delivered a speech setting out Labour’s new official policy on Britain’s exit from the European Union. As he and his shadow cabinet have been since the day of the vote, he attempted to please both remainers and leavers, a strategy which has so far helped to keep his party competitive in the polls with the government, despite the myriad of contradictions between different shadow ministers’ publicly expressed views on the issue since the referendum.
Labour’s latest in a long line of different Brexit positions, Corbyn announced, is to enter into a new, comprehensive customs union deal with the EU following the UK’s exit.
Remaining in a comprehensive customs union with the EU, though, simply makes no economic sense whatsoever.
Labour’s own Shadow International Trade Secretary, Barry Gardiner, had previously branded the concept ‘deeply unattractive’ and he did so for good reason. The retention of membership of a customs union with the EU would mean Britain would have no power to negotiate its own trade deals with countries outside of the EU without the approval of the EU. Put simply, the one undisputable major economic benefit that we stand to gain from leaving is thrown away in an instant.
Even further than that, the membership of this new customs union would effectively tie us into participation in future trade deals between the EU and other nations. This includes deals like TTIP with the USA, which could effectively force us to sell sections of the NHS to American firms. Indeed, Corbyn was asked about this in the questions section after his speech. His response, unbelievably, was that in a future customs union deal with the EU the UK must have a say in future deals negotiated by the EU. This is, of course, absolute fantasy. Why on earth would the EU agree to let the UK continue to influence their trade deals despite not actually being a member? Asked what he would do if this demand was refused in the negotiations, the Labour leader’s only proposed solution was to ‘continue talking to them’.
Even were we to retain some influence in the making of the EU’s trade deals as part of a new customs union, the idea of remaining within one would still be totally undesirable.
The government’s International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, said recently that ‘90% of global growth will be outside Europe’ over the next ten to fifteen years, so it seems ludicrous to forego establishing free trade deals with these non-EU countries simply in order to maintain the status quo of favouring trade with a set of nations which are growing much more slowly, and as such are simply not as attractive as future trading partners.
Deals with Canada, New Zealand, Australia and emerging markets such as China and India should be the future of the UK’s trade, we shouldn’t be throwing potential deals with these countries aside for the sake of the EU.
Corbyn’s new policy on exiting the European Union, then, is not based on sound economics or a solid understanding of what is required for Britain to flourish after leaving. It is both unviable and unattractive, and is designed with one simple fact in mind; Corbyn is well aware that it is unlikely he will ever have to attempt to implement this policy, and if he does, he can simply blame the EU’s stubbornness in negotiations for its failure.
Once again, Labour’s position is pure politics to attempt to capture the remain vote without too heavily alienating the 52% majority who voted to leave. Time, and perhaps polling released in the near future, will tell if they have gotten the balance right.