Chuka Umunna: Single market membership is crucial to Labour's mission

Labour has committed to single market membership during the Brexit transitional period—and potentially beyond. In June, Chuka Umunna argued that membership is crucial for our economy—and doesn’t stop us from controlling immigration

June 27, 2017
Chuka Umunna. Photo: PA
Chuka Umunna. Photo: PA

At the General Election, the prime minister sought a mandate for her vision of hard Brexit, including taking Britain out of the European Single Market. She didn’t get it—and quite right too.

As we leave the European Union, we need to ensure we do so in a way that advances social justice and protects working people. I believe, as do dozens of other Labour MPs and the Trades Union Congress, that this means Britain post-Brexit must remain a member of the Single Market. Labour has always believed in a social Europe, where we work together across the continent to advance social justice and curb the worst excesses of increasingly globalised capitalism. This commitment should not change after we leave.

The Single Market is crucial to this mission for social justice, because it binds its members into a set of laws and regulations that guarantee protections for workers, consumers, and our environment. These range from anti-discrimination laws to the right to join a union, take maternity or paternity leave, and avoid working hazardous and long hours. Cumulatively, these EU rules make our country a safer and more civilised place for working people.

Whatever the government might claim, the fact is that leaving the Single Market will put these regulations at risk. The Repeal Bill is meant to transfer them all into UK law. But the parliamentary process will give hard-right Tory MPs the chance to scrap protections they don’t like. The European Court of Justice judgments which form a key part of the Single Market—their pro-worker rulings on holiday pay, for example—are also at risk of judicial challenge once we leave.

Be in no doubt that many Tory MPs will want to do this. For some of them, the biggest reason for quitting the EU was the chance to light a bonfire of regulations, shifting the balance of law in this country away from ordinary people and towards large corporations. International development secretary Priti Patel, for example, has spoken of halving the “burden” of EU regulation.

The common argument for leaving the Single Market is that to do so is the only way to end the free movement of people currently in operation. But this is possible within the Single Market—we just don’t do it at the moment. For example, Liechtenstein, which is outside the EU but in the Single Market, perfectly legally imposes quotas on immigrants. EU law explicitly allows member states to impose controls on immigration. We should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The Single Market is likewise crucial for our economy. As well as eliminating tariffs on trade between the UK and our largest market, it smooths services trade by harmonising regulations so that small businesses need only deal with one set of rules rather than 28. Trade with the EU supports three million jobs in our country. I find it extraordinary that the government is supporting a policy will damage our economy and put jobs at risk.

MPs of all parties need to unite behind the best possible future for Britain outside the EU, and stand up for our membership of the Single Market.