Manuel Cortes: Only Labour can save us from May’s begging bowl Brexit strategy

Manuel Cortes

As the Tory Brexit shambles unravels, our future within the European Union is not the only future that should preoccupy us. Pronouncements by some senior Tories and the DUP this week are pointing to something far more sinister. It seems the no deal Brexiteers want to turn the clock back 20 years and undo the peace deal that was the Good Friday Agreement. Make no mistake: the price of their no deal is our Irish peace process. 

No one should underestimate the potential damage this could inflict. Many, including myself, have repeatedly warned of the social, economic and political danger of resurrecting a hard-border within the island of Ireland. The jingoistic extremism of these Brexiteers must be opposed at every step. It took centuries to bring peace to the island of Ireland. We must not allow it to be sacrificed on their Europhobic altar.

Its why Jeremy Corbyns National Policy Forum signal that Labour will defend the peace in Ireland is so important. His pledge to Labour tabling amendments in the Commons in support of a customs union with the EUshould we leave, will help safeguard peace in Ireland. It also signalled that whilst the Tories continue to talk amongst themselves about Brexit, Labour has started listening to the shifting will of the people. 

Lets face it, the Brexit options are limited, and those that meet shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmers six tests are in even shorter supply. Jeremys popularity rests on his reputation for honest, straight talking politics. Cometh the hour, cometh the person. And Jeremy is the only political leader with the credibility to talk honestly about the challenges now facing Britain following the referendum vote.

The Tories have no stock left. Their own governments economic assessments show there is no free lunch when it comes to Brexit – theres a price to pay for everything. And while blowing apart the Irish peace process, the no deal scenario would also create a bigger tsunami of economic turmoil than the banker-made, great recession. Without a shadow of a doubt, we will all be made less secure and more poor. Whatever the Brexit deal, all have a common denominator – our living standards will take a hit irrespective of the option we take. The Brexit juice aint going to be worth the painful squeeze. Remaining and reforming has to be a better option. It is also a realistic one. Leaving, in the hope we can negotiate a return on better terms, is a fools errand. 

Jeremy enjoyed a truth bounce when he had the courage to stand up and say “the War on Terror isn’t working”. He will be trusted too if he is now given the space to tell the truth about the stark choices we face now. This is not just about our jobs and our living standards. It’s also about the future of our NHS and our kids’ education. The constraint on economic growth that Brexit will deliver means less money in treasury coffers to fund our public services. Brexit in any form is a state-shrinking pill. It is the bitter, Thatcherite economic prescription the Right in our country have always wanted to write. We must collectively refuse to swallow their fancy-packaged poison. 

Across the country, the people who voted for Brexit are now changing their minds. Labour is the party that listens. Jeremy understands politics isnt made of soundbites, but with patience and with political conversions from one point of view to another. The Tories want to conduct their business behind closed doors as they talk amongst themselves. Only Labour can now open up this debate and let the voice of the people be re-heard on their futures, which will be fated by whatever happens in the next year or so. 

This brings me neatly back to Laboursix Brexit tests. The only two options likely to meet its requirements are either a Norway/Norway-plus styledeal or a let’s-stay-put deal. Stuck with the current Tory imposed Article 50 leave date of March 30th 2019, we will be without the benefit of the 750+ international agreements that the EU has signed with third countries. No longer a member of EU the club, we won’t reap its benefits. A transition deal would only cover our trading relationship with the 31 countries within the European Economic Area. Our relationships with the rest of the world will be in their gift, not ours. May’s only solution to this immediate diminution of our stature is to send a letter to everyone we trade with asking them to please treat us as if we are still in the EU. 

Her Brexit Britain can be caricatured by Oliver Twist standing with his begging bowl hoping for more munificence from world competitors. Thats not an economic strategy, it’s economic suicide. Some countries will impose tariffs on our goods and complicated rules about origin permutations are likely to price our manufactured goods out of existing markets. Maybegging bowl Brexit strategy will enslave us rather than liberate us, and competitor nations looking to extract concessions in their favour. This is far from the madding Brexiteer pledges of strengthened global trading status and growing influence should we leave the EU. This was always utter tosh wrapped up in nostalgia for a bygone imperial era.

Only Labour can now out the truth that a transitional period is not a halfway house from which to negotiate. Transition will reduce us to immediate vassal statehood as we will have ceded our current status as EU rule-maker to one of voluntary compliance. The UK ship of state will still be berthed in EU harbour but without its flag of EU convenience.

It falls to Labour to alter the disaster of this Tory trajectory. We must now put the case to rescind Article 50s Tory deadline from March 2019 to enable a Labour government to take the helm of Brexit negotiations and recalibrate negotiations with the EU. It could then be from a position of strength, not jeopardy, with current trading relationships intact. We will not be a vassal state as we will retain elected members of the European Parliament together with senior figures within the European Commission and will continue attending the Council of Ministers, offering input in the determination of our own future at every level.

As the Tories continue talking to themselves they are shunting our nations, our Irish peace process, our people and our public services further towards the cliff edge. Only Labour can now be a conduit by which the majority voice of the people – now turned against Brexit – can be harnessed to salvage the future from Tory Brexits devastating economic prospects.

Manuel Cortes is general secretary of the TSSA.

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