The referendum in June 2016 was clear: a majority voted to Leave. Since then clarity has been in short supply. And last week Labour added to the confusion with a speech by Jeremy Corbyn in Coventry on 26 February that would have been breathtakingly naïve had it not been so stunningly cynical.
Corbyn called disingenuously for “a” customs union with the EU, then added that it would have to be one where Britain “has a say in future trade deals”. Short of actually staying in the EU, there is no way that this would be possible. And he knows it.
This new “customs arrangement”, he said, would “depend on Britain being able to negotiate agreement of new trade deals in the national interest”. That simply cannot happen if Britain is in a customs union of any kind. Customs unions bind their members to common tariffs – so we could only have a trade deal with another country if the EU negotiated it.
‘It means staying in the EU, but without even a courtesy vote.’
And being in a customs union with the EU means staying with the rules of the Single Market, including the free movement of capital and labour. It means abiding by the rulings of the EU’s Court of Justice (an institution not mentioned at all in Corbyn’s speech). To all intents and purposes, it means staying in the EU, but without even a courtesy vote.
Corbyn knows this. So why the speech? The answer can only be that it is a reckless attempt to hold his party together and enlist the aid of Remainer Conservatives to bring down the government – whatever the consequences for Brexit and for Britain.
Pattern of betrayal
Likewise with Corbyn’s repeated trips to Brussels: what are they for if not to undermine Britain’s position in the negotiations with the EU? It’s all part of a pattern of betrayal.
Labour stood in the 2017 general election on a platform of Brexit. “Labour accepts the referendum result and a Labour government will put the national interest first,” its manifesto declared. Now it has abandoned national interest, and in a way that signals it is moving away from its acceptance of the result.
For the time being, the line – repeated in the Coventry speech – is still that Labour respects the referendum result. But the tone of the references to “a” customs union is the language of betrayal. Its only effect is to encourage those in his party, and elsewhere, who have never given up trying to reverse the referendum result.