Dark clouds are fast gathering over Britain. The folly of the Brexit vote is becoming clearer and its economic consequences look dire. An argument between two wings of Tory Toffs, settled in a referendum dominated by xenophobia, has set a trajectory which will impose a very damaging economic legacy on working people. History won’t judge the referendum result as taking sides in a pistols at dawn duel. If Brexit goes ahead, future historians will look back and see a carpet-bombing of the British economy and the freedoms enjoyed by people living here, that was unleashed by David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, David Davis and their ilk. They will see a Tory civil war that spilled over into the economic destruction of our country.
Voices against the madness of heading, lemming-like, over the precipice are gathering pace and there are signs that public opinion is shifting in favour of heading back from the cliff-edge. Those wanting us to opt for membership.of the European Economic Area (EEA) or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) are simply being feeble. They have wheeled out the term ‘fair movement’ rather than having the guts to detoxify the endless rubbish written on freedom of movement. And what is fair movement? Do they mean perhaps Switzerland’s face saving deal in which it is ‘allowed’ to advertise vacancies in it’s own labour market – without discriminating against European Union (EU) nationals already there – before jobs are advertised elsewhere within the EFTA? The Swiss solution is at best a slight tweak and, for the life of me, I can’t see why we don’t already do this and how or why EU would object. In any case, Labour’s 2017 Manifesto has already committed us to ending the practice of employers advertising job vacancies only abroad.
The EEA/EFTA advocates need to stop panicking about Tory Brexit and stop it. If they believe that freedom of movement is a good thing, like I do, they must speak up for it. They are deluded if they think they can have their cake and eat it. Their will be no free trade deal with the EU without freedom of movement. So let’s rally for the many benefits migrants bring. Let’s talk about the EU nationals who are doctors, nurses, cleaners and catering staff within our NHS whose brilliant efforts, help us at our time of greatest need. Let’s challenge the poison put out by the Daily Mail with our movement’s strongest antidote: our solidarity for, and between, each other. Going against the grain did wonders for Labour at the recent general election. Let’s once again have the courage of our convictions when dealing with freedom of movement. Let’s stand, strong and proud and say without hesitation we want to build bridges with Europe and leave the wall-building to the Tories and their mate Trump.
Why should we confine ourselves to the second rate option of EEA or EFTA membership when what we already have is something far better? I can’t see how we win the hearts and minds of those who voted for Brexit by telling them that we should now enter into a new arrangement which, in exchange for a large fee, will allow the EU to make all the rules for us because we gave up our EU seat and ability to shape things. This is such a poor proposal, it beggars belief that some serious players within our movement are making the case for it. And may I remind you, no one voted to leave the EU to join a second-best European economic unit? The best Brexit option to put on the the table is one which says we stay put. I hope our party leader Jeremy Corbyn will be holding out that olive branch when he meets the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier, this week. Anything lesser is to cede to a deal meaning Britain will be agreeing to taxation without representation. What serious tribune of the people can advocate that?
We need to focus on the facts. Can we get a deal better outside the EU than the one we currently have? The only answer to that question is no. That fact is already destabilising our economy. We need to acknowledge and start talking about the negative toll being felt on our economy as a result of Cameron’s dreadful gamble that’s landed our country, our economy and our standard of living in one big Tory Brexit mess. Labour’s magnificent manifesto of 2017 has inspired many with a different vision of what taking back control can really look like when it comes to saving our NHS. Similarly with nationalising our railways and our utility companies which is actually the only way to take back control of key infrastructure from the French, German, Italian and Dutch governments who currently own them. Labour’s manifesto trumps Tory Brexit and gives new meaning to taking back control.
As the country takes to heart our message of a world for the many not the few it makes no sense for Labour to accept substandard and deeply undemocratic free trade deals, whether EEA or EFTA membership or, any other mechanism. If, as it looks increasingly likely, that staying put is better than any second-best single-market deals on offer, then let’s just stay-put. Let’s remember the wise words of J.M. Keynes, “When the facts change, I change my mind.” Let’s change our case to one in which we build bridges and a renewed relationship within the EU – sharing our solidarity as well as a single market, free movement and our ambition for a People’s Europe with our neighbours. What’s more staying put won’t even cost us a penny. And history will look back and see how Labour, once again built the peace and salvaged our people from long years of Tory austerity.
Manuel Cortes is the general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association