Labour’s Gone Soft


Labour has decided that it is the party of soft Brexit following an article by Keir Starmer in the Observer. Starmer stated that Labour would continue to abide by free movement rules, accept the ECJ as the arbiter of trade disputes and continue to pay into the EU budget for a transitional period. He even opined that the UK could remain part of the single market and the customs union forever if a deal could be reached on immigration.

This position would appear to run contrary to everything the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has ever believed in. Corbyn is a lifelong eurosceptic who earlier stated that Labour would not seek to keep the UK in the single market. Now he leads a party whose stated position runs contrary to the spirit of the referendum vote and plays into the hands of the Remainers. There is no way that 17.5 million people voted to allow free movement, the ECJ to make our laws for us and continued membership of the single market. So what is Corbyn playing at?

Firstly he is ignoring the ordinary voters in the North and the Midlands who voted for Brexit but would otherwise support Labour, while taking on the position of the Bank of England and big business. Secondly he is putting pressure on the Conservative Party, which has to choose the way in which it approaches the Brexit negotiations. He is playing politics with an issue that divides the nation and it is hard to see how he thinks it will advantage him beyond causing trouble for Theresa May.

The soft Brexit that Labour is proposing is the worst of all possible worlds. The UK would have to continue to allow Brussels to control our borders and make our laws, while not having the power or influence that EU membership affords. In reality it is not so much a soft Brexit as EU membership lite. It is an open question as to whether Corbyn is personally committed to this position or has simply allowed Remainers like Starmer to make the running in order to cause Mrs May a headache.

Brexit has always been a difficult subject for Corbyn. His approach during the referendum campaign was equivocal. He stayed out of the limelight and refused to make a stand either for or against Brexit. Now he is allowing his party to take a stance that runs contrary to his own principled distrust of the EU. This is an odd position for a politician who bases his entire career on his view of principled politics. It would be impossible to imagine other far left eurosceptics like Tony Benn supporting this position.

Ultimately it is an illustration of the sort of politician that Corbyn is. When an issue is straightforward Corbyn takes a committed stance in relation to it. If there was a war being contemplated he would be against it. If it were a choice between the US and UK on one side of an argument and anyone else on the other side he would side with anyone else. In this case Brexit is too complicated an issue to have a knee jerk reaction to so he prevaricates and ends up allowing others to decide what the stance should be.

Our future relationship with the EU is not a subject that is amenable to the sort of student politics Corbyn thrives on. His decision to play politics with it just goes to show that he is not a serious political thinker. During the referendum campaign the far left that campaigned for leave had a political position that was at least coherent. It is odd that when searching for his own position this is the one-time Corbyn turned his back on the far left and allied himself with the Establishment and the New Labour members of his party. It will be fascinating to see how Mrs May approaches the negotiations now that Corbyn has put his cards on the table. However that is, Corbyn has not covered himself in glory.