Labour and Brexit

There is no doubt that Owen Smith establishes a politically appealing argument when he states that there should be a second EU referendum. The logic being, possibly before Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is invoked, that the people should have a clear picture of what Brexit involves so they can endorse the governments approach (or oppose that approach).

Clearly, with an estimated 65% of Labour Party supporters having voted to remain in the EU – there is some logic to the Owen Smith argument. His stance could certainly persuade some party members to vote for him in the Labour Party leadership contest.

In comparison, Jeremy Corbyn seems more guarded and content with the Labour Party accepting the outcome of the June 2016 EU referendum – albeit that the ‘Vote Leave’ majority of 52-48% is hardly convincing. Many people have put the reluctance of Jeremy Corbyn to advocate the need for a second referendum as being indicative of his lukewarm support for the EU.

A constructive approach from Corbyn.

However, there could be a great deal more to the political stance of Jeremy Corbyn than many people give him credit for. For example, if Labour wishes to play a role in any pre-Article 50 planning – then the May Government is much more likely to involve a Labour Party that signifies that it is intent on trying to make any Brexit plans work in the best interests of the UK. In other words, constructive criticism coming from a Labour led Jeremy Corbyn could be of value to the Conservative Government and do no harm to the image of the Labour Party. It could also help the May Government, if Labour votes in the Commons are needed to get the legislation through.

Indeed, a constructive Labour Party approach to Brexit could also benefit Jeremy Corbyn, since it could signify that he is prepared to move from Corbyn protest politics into constructive parliamentary participation.

Listening to Jeremy Corbyn talking over Brexit leads me to conclude that he has an approach that is worth supporting. He argues that Brexit must involve participation in the Single Market, because without such involvement there are real concerns for exports and jobs. Such a view is widely supported – with even people like Boris Johnson (Foreign Secretary) open to such an argument. Obviously, some Brexit advocates – like Nigel Farage – have the more extreme view of wanting to walk away completely from the EU (Single Market and all). That extremist approach certainly is not the view of Jeremy Corbyn.


Support for the Single Market with workers rights.

Indeed, while Jeremy Corbyn openly supports the UK remaining in the Single Market, he also makes clear that any Brexit deal must include protection for workers rights and human rights. In effect, this could be achieved by the passing of an Act of Parliament that cements into domestic law all existing EU employment laws up to the date of the UK leaving the EU. Such a protection of workers rights is not something that we could expect to derive from the May Government, but it is a price they may be prepared to pay to obtain Labour Party support in the Commons.

Jeremy Corbyn has also spoken about the rights of EU nationals working in the UK and UK nationals working in the EU. Again, this is a major issue that impacts upon the rights of workers and those retired. Jeremy Corbyn wants to see protections put in place in any pre-Article 50 planning. The same goes for free movement of workers. Jeremy Corbyn has been strongly advocating reform of the Posting of Workers Directive – as a means of establishing a fairer European labour market. Such posting proposals involve the clamping down on EU/UK employers that undermine minimum wages etc. In effect, such posting of workers protections would be extremely important in a Single Market that allows for free movement of goods and workers. Yes, free movement of workers will still be of concern to many, but legislation that tackles the exploitation of workers (by unscrupulous employers) should help alleviate some of the immigration concerns.

Praise for the Corbyn approach.

If, inter alia, the May Government were prepared to agree to a form of Brexit that involves a Single Market, with protection for workers, then it is something that the unions and the Labour Party could support. However, if the May Government refuse to entertain such an approach then the Labour Party would be justified in opposing Brexit and calling for a Brexit referendum.

At the moment, nobody knows what Brexit involves. Yes, Prime Minister May has said that “Brexit means Brexit” – but nobody knows what that actually means. Jeremy Corbyn should at least be praised for trying to explain the minimum requirements that he wants to see in any Brexit proposals.

Dr Peter Jepson is the editor of LawsBlog. Read this article in its original form here