Transitional deals have at this point become a glaring distractionby Jonathan Lis / August 29, 2017 / Leave a comment
Attempts to divine Labour’s policy on the single market have, over the last year, more closely resembled repeated visits to a fickle or forgetful Greek oracle. Direct questions about the UK’s membership after Brexit—which as any Norwegian will point out, does not require membership of the EU—have elicited cryptic vagueness and continual contradiction. Responses have ranged from holding the door open to bolting it shut, or from prioritising jobs and the economy (which requires us to stay) to promising the termination of EU citizens’ free movement (which requires us to leave). Given the single market’s critical importance for ensuring people’s future jobs and livelihoods, and indeed Britain’s entire economic and commercial ecosystem, Labour’s stance, while perhaps politically canny, proved in every other way unhelpful and undesirable.
We therefore have much to celebrate in shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer’s new-found clarity over the weekend. Unlike the Tories, whose plan is to remain in a temporary customs union on Brexit day but leave the single market, Labour has now committed to remaining in the single market for an unspecified transition period—and potentially as a permanent solution afterwards. In concrete terms, it ensures that there will be no cliff-edge for the economy when we leave the EU in just 19 months. From a political perspective, meanwhile, Labour has finally opened a stretch of clear blue water from the government, and given cover for hitherto demoralised Tory rebels to dive into it.
And yet. While Labour’s policy change is extremely welcome, it also poses a number of serious questions. If we are to consider this announcement as more than spin or playing for time, Labour must quickly answer them.
First, the party must clarify its proposed legislative route for remaining in the single market. The government’s Withdrawal Bill will shortly be debated in the House of Commons. It provides for the amending of the European Economic Area (EEA) Act 1993, so that the EEA—which gives us membership of the single market beyond the framework of the EU—will no longer apply in domestic UK law. If Labour votes with the government, the single market will no longer extend to Britain on Brexit day, even in transitional form. Given that the Labour leadership just two months ago opposed a Queen’s Speech amendment which called for…