The right to request an extension of the Brexit transition period, which would have allowed negotiations to continue beyond December 31st, expired on June 30th. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on the rack. Labour’s job is to tighten it. The electorate needs to hear what’s at stake at a time when jobs are being lost in their thousands and economic activity has collapsed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Labour Business members would have preferred an extension, as our latest survey showed. But Keir Starmer has been clear since he was elected Labour leader: if Johnson says he can get a deal, it’s up him to deliver. We understand why Labour, aiming to win at the next general election, must not be seen to be thwarting Brexit now. Brexit will happen. Despite Johnson’s boasts of ‘getting Brexit done’, nothing could be further from the truth. Businesses still have no idea about future trading terms other than the worst-case scenario of ‘no deal’.
Our members expect the government to be challenged about its apparent preference for as much divergence as possible from the EU within a trade agreement, or even a no-deal Brexit. Discussion in our international policy group proposes three challenges from Labour to the Tories:
- A letter from Starmer to Johnson outlining a set of principles that the government should be adopting in the negotiations, and which Labour in government would apply to any future trade agreements, including with the EU;
- A statement by the Labour leader at an appropriate time pinning ownership of the eventual outcome of the UK/EU negotiations on the government; and
- A review of the impact of divergence on the main sectors of the economy.
We welcome news that more than 100 UK company chiefs, entrepreneurs and business groups have written, belatedly, to the Prime Minister warning that it would be “hugely damaging” to the economy if Britain leaves the EU without a deal at the end of this year – as reported in The Financial Times. This strengthens the case for Labour to remind the electorate now about Tory promises to secure a deal, what it should look like, and the consequences of divergence or no deal.
Our future relationship with the EU should be a mutually beneficial arrangement, characterised by a spirit of collaboration and underpinned by progressive values. The ten principles for a positive future with the EU are:
1. Workers’ protection
Workers’ rights and protections are maintained and improved. There must also be guarantees that these rights and protections meet the highest standards in the world.
2. Livelihoods protected
British businesses and the livelihoods that depend upon them – from major manufacturing to agriculture and the livelihoods of our rural communities – must be protected and must not be undermined by a race to the bottom with cheaper sub-standard imports entering the UK.
3. World-leading service sector protected
Our service industries make up 80% of our economy, so non-tariff barriers – such as data sharing and access to talent – must not be imposed on this sector as a result of any future deals. Nor must emerging industries be prevented from flourishing through protectionist practices that prevent access to a digital single market.
4. Care for our planet
Our climate change goals of net zero by 2050 must be adhered to and any future deals should accelerate our ability to achieve them along with our commitment to the United Nation’s 17 sustainable development goals.
5. Preserve consumer standards
Our food and consumer standards should be protected to ensure that every British shopper knows they have the best quality product choice in the world, achieved through the highest and most humane standards.
6. Protection for our public services
Our public services, like the NHS, are our greatest asset and any trade deals or policies must not interfere with the quality of services provided to our citizens from our staff and facilities, or with access to medicines and medical research.
7. Reinforce UK science, technology and security leadership
The UK has some of the best talent and institutions in the world, so we must continue to participate in global organisations at the forefront of scientific and technological discovery as well as key security organisations.
8. Transparency and accountability
Our democracy is at the heart of our freedoms – trade deals must be transparent and open to scrutiny to ensure that human rights and citizens’ rights are protected and improved where necessary.
9. Positive immigration approach
Our immigration policy is based on fairness, skills needed, opportunities for our citizens and the recognition that immigration makes a positive contribution to our economy, public services and culture. In turn, we must ensure that UK citizens do not lose opportunities to work and study abroad.
10. Justice, equality and shared prosperity
A just and fair society is at the heart of our values, so future arrangements must support greater equality and prosperity across the regions and peoples of the UK, regardless of gender, race, ability, religion or lifestyle.