Next week, barring Houdini-esque contortions from the DUP and Tory European Research Group hardliners, Theresa May’s Brexit deal will be soundly defeated in parliament. I’ll be joining the Labour frontbench in voting down the deal, and in any vote of no-confidence that may follow. Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly reached out to Theresa May to work for a cross-party Brexit deal that meets Labour’s sensible six tests to protect jobs and the economy, yet the PM has rebuffed him at every turn, to her folly. We are now in deadlock, with entrenched positions getting wider apart, divisions deepening and our political discourse more toxic than ever. Absolutism rules when reaching out and compromises are needed.
As we go round and round in circles, and Brexit arguments ape Groundhog Day, it’s time to look for a Plan B. There’s clearly no majority in parliament for no deal – that much is clear from the letter organised by Jack Dromey and Caroline Spelman, which I signed along with over 200 other MPs today. Equally, however, there is no majority in parliament for a second referendum and no real chance of Theresa May ever agreeing to one. And whilst there is some appetite in parts of the country for another public vote, the mood I and many colleagues across the House get when talking to our constituents is that they just want Brexit to be dealt with.
That’s why I’ve come to the view that we are all going to need a Plan B when May’s deal is defeated next week. Together with Robert Halfon MP, I’ve co-authored a report today setting out our Common Market 2.0 proposals, with the backing of the cross-party Norway Plus group of MPs.
I completely understand that many people want us to remain in the EU. I believe that we are better off, economically and politically, in the EU. I used to be the Director of Britain in Europe for goodness’ sake, so I don’t think anyone could accuse me of not being pro-EU. But I understand the sentiment that led to the Brexit vote in the first place and I respect it. The result was partly down to a deep scepticism about politics and politicians, so we can’t ignore or seek to overturn it. What’s more, I am unconvinced that referendums allow for rational, complex decisions, but instead give rise to emotional, over-simplified outcomes.
The report we are publishing together makes the case for a Brexit that delivers on the result of the 2016 referendum while protecting the economic interests of working people, as the UK would become part of a new common market with the EU that already exists. It creates a new, long-term partnership that keeps us as closely aligned to the EU as possible but not being in the “ever closer political union”.
Common Market 2.0 offers real frictionless trade through full single market access and a new customs union. It would guarantee workers’ rights as part of common market membership; provide new controls over free movement in certain, extreme circumstances, when our government deems it necessary; allows more money for public services as our contributions to Common Market 2.0 would be significantly lower than to the EU, in fact about half and gives us a voice over the regulations that govern the Single Market.
Common Market 2.0 is also the only off-the-shelf proposal that meet’s Labour’s six tests by delivering on Jeremy Corbyn’s call for a customs union and a strong single market deal. While there are many across parliament whose first preference is something else (another referendum, the PM’s deal or Boris’ no deal), I believe there could be wide support and a majority that would be content with this as their Plan B.
With all sides of the Brexit debate backing themselves into corners, there will have to be some compromise if we’re to avoid the disaster of no deal. Common Market 2.0 deals with concerns about free movement, removes the need for the backstop and keeps us in the broader European family, creating a new powerful group of countries outside the EU but in a new economic common market. This is a sensible, common sense Brexit deal that can work.
Lucy Powell is MP for Manchester Central.
You can read the Common Market 2.0 report here.