The EU – what should Labour do now?

Apparently there is to be no hard border but the UK is leaving the customs union.

These contradictions are part of the recent agreement on Article 50.

If the latest Times report is correct EU officials and diplomats were irritated by Mr Davis’s remark at the weekend that the withdrawal agreement was just a “statement of intent”. “It’s not helpful if people cast everything into doubt 24 hours later,” one source said. And that “EU Negotiations on Britain’s future trade agreement will continue only if last week’s withdrawal deal is quickly turned into a legally binding treaty.” Indeed, even if a treaty is not required, the EU conditions for further negotiation require that “commitments undertaken during the first phase are respected in full and translated faithfully in legal terms as quickly as possible.”

This will mean that either Britain crashes out with no agreement, which Labour doesn’t want and will be a disaster for Britain, Ireland and probably the Good Friday agreement – and will necessitate a hard border everywhere between Britain and the EU – or the Brexiteers have lost and it will be a soft, slight Brexit, which will mean we don’t make the rules but we do just take them. That is we’ll be in the EU in every other respect – as the altered departmental paper heading below suggests.

The leaving referendum would be shown to be an ill thought out sham and leaving itself shown to be impossible when we have due regard for our neighbours and especially Ireland. Neil Wilson’s idea that Ireland should leave the EU as well is not credible and he doesn’t understand WTO regulations either.

The other thing a legally binding initial treaty would do is crystalize Conservative divisions; it is telling that Hammond has indicated that the Cabinet has not even discussed the end objective for leaving. That’s how the Prime Minister keeps her job – by never resolving the conflicts in the cabinet but staggering from one fudge to the next.

So a legal treaty now would provoke an increased likelihood of Conservative government collapse.

Labour must be prepared and also be working hard in the background.

So this has to be decision time for Labour – maybe not yet publicly but certainly internally. They are going to be obliged to keep the country in the single market and the customs union if and when they gain power. They’ll have to suggest that the EU vote wasn’t one to cast Northern Ireland out of the UK. Indeed it most definitely wasn’t. Few even considered Northern Ireland.

They will have to state that we have to stay where we are – sorry the vote was only advisory – this is where we find ourselves. It was a vote called by a Conservative government that – we have seen – was completely unprepared and clueless and they are not fit to either lead or govern. If we want to leave we have to prepare the ground carefully first and we have not done it. We will rescind article 50 and stay in. If we want to leave in the future then we must prepare for it but with the failing (Conservative) economic stagnation, now is not the time.

Labour already have a radical policy for reform at home which, without the costs and obsession of Brexit, will have every opportunity of succeeding. We’ll keep jobs and keep investment. Although Europe needs change, the UK has an entirely red-tape free, tariff-free access to the largest single market on the planet. A free trade ideal!

This is a one off opportunity – radicalism not just at home but for Europe.

Labour should be trying to stay – it’s what most of their supporters want and what most people, who have seen what a disaster Brexit will be, now want. Of course there will be moaning in Stoke on Trent where the leave vote was supposedly the highest in the UK, but we have seen that we will be worse off out of the EU. If we are to be better off we have to work on it. (Over to you Stoke?)

Once Article 50 is rescinded, future British reform proposals are likely to be taken even more seriously, but Britain needs allies. Ireland is an obvious choice but Nordic countries are also available – as are southern Euro countries where increasing democracy in Europe would be popular.

Labour also needs to get together with other left leaning parties in Europe to campaign for change in Europe. Nobody can want to see the rise and rise of right wing parties – least of all the left. So this would be a task for the Blairites, which they should be both suited to and enjoy.

It is true, too, that the indivisibility of the four freedoms needs to be addressed – stopping uncontrolled capital movements would be an area to agree on. Europe has the Euro of course but as Greece shows us it is not really a truly Pan European currency so capital movements could still be controlled. Even Macron might favour this as part of his idea to democratise control of the ECB. Immigration is no longer a problem – if ever it was. As we know these pesky immigrants are (sadly) going home in large numbers. I think Labour should sound out Macron. He wants to change the ECB democratic control, and might be persuaded that enhanced democracy elsewhere was desirable  – in particular live streaming of EU Council meetings.

Labour should pay closer attention to Diem, Yanis Varousakis’ pro Europe reform group, who say they want to offer “a decentralised Europe that uses central power to maximise democracy locally”. (That’s subsidiarity, the Roman Catholic idea which the EU was once keen on but seems to have forgotten.) This would would surely find resonance among Labour supporters.

And it it is an obvious truth that, as Diem says, “unprecedented inequality, declining hope and misanthropy flourish throughout Europe.” I’d suggest that they could publicly adopt Diem’s manifesto whose points, partially summarised below, are hardly controversial,but nobody in the UK has ever banged this drum before:

Use Europe to control corporate power.

Use Europe to control America (under Trump especially).

Use Europe to enhance common purpose in climate change.

Use Europe to compete with China – where the EU is a larger market and a larger population.

Use Europe to promote farming without GM – whose benefits have recently been called into doubt by Brazilian research.

Use Europe to control tax abuse.

No more skulking indecision – Labour needs to make a splash.

Britain needs to stay in for change.

With the largest Party membership in Europe, Labour has shown that radicalism works at home, now is their chance to show it can work for the EU too.


  1. Sean Danaher -

    Neil Wilson should stick to MMT but to be fair other prominent MMT people such as Steve Keen and Bill Mitchell can be anti EU also. Understanding economics does not always go hand in hand with understanding politics. For me the EU is far more than economics.

    I have always believed the principle of subsidiarity is a good one and needs to be applied more widely and whereas I don’t always agree with Varoufakis (his knowledge of the 2nd Lisbon referendum in Ireland seems to have been acquired from reading the Daily Mail) I agree with the general thrust of his arguments. The Diem25 launch in Dublin was well covered by the media there.

    I would strongly support this but I fear that Brexit madness has gripped the country and as in the TRUK blog this morning it is not going away soon.

  2. Peter May -

    Interesting Guardian article suggesting “If the Labour leader fights arm in arm with the trade union movement, he has the capacity to shift the opinion of working people.”

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