Labour Must Stand for Free Trade Agreement with EU

Written By: Michael Hindley
Published: May 10, 2017 Last modified: May 10, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn agrees with Theresa May.

“Brexit is Brexit” and there will be no second referendum.

I think this is realistic and honest, although some lifelong pro-EU Labour members may chunter on with the LibDems in demanding another referendum.

Pro-EU Labour people are piling up stories and dire predictions of just how bad Brexit will be.

This is not persuasive. We’re coming out.

It’s a tragedy in my view. But there we are.

It doesn’t help Labour to offer ourselves as “remoaners” “sourgrapers” or “project fear” merchants.

So what’s a credible position for Labour? The only “red lines” Jeremy Corbyn has mentioned are preservation of EU social and environmental standards. But is Jeremy saying if there’s no guarantee to preserve them, Labour will vote against the final “quit” Parliamentary vote?

My understanding of the Great Repeal Bill is that all EU legislation will be taken into UK law. This means existing social and environmental law is safe and can only be removed by the UK Parliament revoking such laws. So, will Labour vote against the Repeal Bill on principle? Or wait to oppose any subsequent revoking of specific laws?

The great irritant, deliberately and mischievously, introduced by the European Commission is the “pay-to-leave” settlement.

Settling what the EU owes the UK and vice versa is necessary. The idea of a final settlement before negotiations begin is absurd and Labour should not be afraid of agreeing with May on this point.

However, continuing to paying into the EU to keep up certain cooperative programmes after Brexit, i.e. in education and research, makes sense and Labour should say so.

The key question is the UK’s future trade relation with the EU. A free trade agreement (FTA) is the only viable option. Labour now accepts there will be no free movement of labour/people. Jeremy Corbyn says it should be “managed” immigration. It should also be equitable and non-discriminatory. And contrary to the impression given by the EU Commission – FTA’s need not necessarily include free movement. The FTAs with Canada, South Korea and other projected FTAs with USA, India, and Japan do not have a free movement of people clause.

But EU FTAs have social, environmental conditionality and Labour must insist on them. All EU FTAs have commitment to transparency, accountability, monitoring and the involvement of civic society and these are further demands Labour must make.

It’s too late to burden the General Election with the above considerations, but whatever the result, Labour will have to address these issues in order to break out of its present inertia on Europe.

About Michael Hindley

Michael Hindley, former vice-president of the European Parliament's Committee on International Trade (INTA ) was Labour MEP for Lancashire East 1984-1994 and Lancashire South 1994-1999 and acts as Trade Policy Adviser for the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).