Background Briefing: Ten Questions Labour Must Now Answer on Brexit

As Labour’s annual conference gets underway, there is still much uncertainty about the Party’s position on Brexit. Labour is committed to leaving the Single Market and Customs Union, but also to retaining the “exact same benefits” of both. The shift towards favouring a close transition period that retains Single Market and Customs Union membership for a time-limited period is welcome, but vagueness remains, especially on the shape of the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU.

Here are the ten questions that Open Britain believes the Labour Party must now answer on its approach to Brexit…

1. On 26 March, Keir Starmer committed Labour to voting against any Brexit deal that does not deliver the “exact same benefits” as membership of the Single Market and Customs Union, as David Davis had previously said. If the Government does not achieve the ‘exact same benefits’ will Labour commit to continued Single Market and Customs Union membership as the only alternative?

“Which brings me to my second key test: Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union? … Failure to meet those tests will affect how Labour votes in the House of Commons. Let me be clear: Labour will not support a deal that fails to reflect core British values and the six tests I have set out today.”
Keir Starmer, Speech at Chatham House, 27 March 2017
http://press.labour.org.uk/post/158884928409/keir-starmer-speech-at-chatham-house-what-next 

"We will scrap the Conservatives’ Brexit White Paper and replace it with fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union."

Labour Party Manifesto 2017

http://www.labour.org.uk/page/-/Images/manifesto-2017/Labour%20Manifesto%202017.pdf 

2. Jeremy Corbyn and some members of the Shadow Cabinet have repeatedly (and incorrectly) stated that it is not possible to be a member of the Single Market and be outside the EU. However, the Party is now advocating remaining in the Single Market for a transition period after we leave the EU in March 2019. So given they now accept that non-EU membership of the Single Market is in fact possible, why should Labour not support it for the long term? 

"The single market is dependent on membership of the EU."

Jeremy Corbyn, BBC Andrew Marr Show, 23 July 2017

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/23071701.pdf 

"So the Labour position is this: we leave the European Union. As leaving the European Union it means we need to leave the single market."

Emily Thornberry, BBC Question Time, 15 June 2017

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVDDgWliwAo  

"You can only be a full member of the single market if you are an EU member and therefore it is obvious that we are looking for something else."

Keir Starmer, BBC Andrew Marr Show, 18 June 2017

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/18/britain-could-stay-customs-union-brexit-sayssir-keir-starmer/

3. In a recent poll by the Economic and Social Research Council, only 4.2% of Labour members fully support leaving the Single Market, and just 2.4% fully support leaving the Customs Union. Given the Labour leadership’s longstanding commitment to party democracy and an enhanced role for the membership, why will they not listen to the views of Labour members on membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union?

"Two-thirds of members (66%) think Britain should definitely stay in the single market with a further fifth (20.7%) saying “more yes than no” to the question. Only 4.2% of Labour members said they definitely believed Britain should leave the grouping ... There were similar levels of support on the customs union with 63.1% saying Britain should definitely stay within the group, 22.2% leaning towards the same position, and only 2.4% saying the UK should definitely leave it."
The Guardian, 17 July 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jul/17/most-labour-members-want-uk-to-remain-in-single-market

4. Keir Starmer recently wrote that remaining in the Single Market and the Customs Union for a transition period would allow “goods and services [to continue] to flow between the EU and the UK without tariffs, customs checks or additional red tape”, and that “there would be no need to set up complex alternative customs or trading relations.” The logical conclusion of this argument that leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union after a transition period would stymie the flow of goods, increase red tape for businesses and result in complex trading relations. So why is Labour policy still in favour of leaving the Single Market and Customs Union once a transitional period is complete? 

“By remaining inside a customs union and the single market in a transitional phase we would be certain that goods and services could continue to flow between the EU and the UK without tariffs, customs checks or additional red tape. There would be no need to set up complex alternative customs or trading relations.”
Keir Starmer, The Guardian, 26 August 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/26/keir-starmer-no-constructive-ambiguity-brexit-cliff-edge-labour-will-avoid-transitional-deal 

5. Labour is now committed to remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union during a transition period. Will you therefore support amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill that seek to keep Britain in both, and will you vote against the Bill at Third Reading if none of these amendments are accepted?

“Labour would seek a transitional deal that maintains the same basic terms that we currently enjoy with the EU. That means we would seek to remain in a customs union with the EU and within the single market during this period. It means we would abide by the common rules of both.”
Keir Starmer, The Guardian, 26 August 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/26/keir-starmer-no-constructive-ambiguity-brexit-cliff-edge-labour-will-avoid-transitional-deal

6. Labour’s 2017 General Election manifesto commits the party to seeking “a truly meaningful vote on the final deal.” But Clause 1 of the EU Withdrawal Bill would give the Prime Minister the authority to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 whenever she wants. This means that Parliament will be deprived a meaningful say over the final deal. So will the Party put forward an amendment to Clause 1, and will you vote against the Bill at Third Reading if Clause 1 remains intact?


"A Labour approach to Brexit also means legislating to guarantee that Parliament has a truly meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal."
Labour Party Manifesto 2017
http://www.labour.org.uk/page/-/Images/manifesto-2017/Labour%20Manifesto%202017.pdf

7. Writing in August, Barry Gardiner said that being in the Customs Union beyond a short transitional period would be “deeply unattractive”. Does this remain Labour policy?

“As a transitional phase, a customs union agreement might be thought to have some merit. However, as an end point it is deeply unattractive.”
Barry Gardiner, The Guardian, 24 July 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/24/leaving-eu-single-market-customs-union-brexit-britain-europe

8. Writing in August, Barry Gardiner argued that the benchmark for the final Brexit deal must be “control over our borders, sovereignty over our laws, not to submit to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), and not to pay money into the European budget.” Is this official Labour policy?

“Brexit arose from key political, rather than trade, objectives: to have control over our borders, to have sovereignty over our laws, not to submit to the European court of justice (ECJ), and not to pay money into the European budget ... I campaigned to stay in the EU, but as a democratic politician, I have to recognise that these objectives provide the benchmarks by which leave voters will judge the future trade relations we negotiate with the EU. Unless the new agreement delivers these objectives in substantial measure, we will find it difficult to justify the final result to the 52% who voted leave.”
Barry Gardiner, The Guardian, 24 July 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/24/leaving-eu-single-market-customs-union-brexit-britain-europe

9. Writing in August, Barry Gardiner said membership of the Customs Union would “preclude us from making our own independent trade agreements with our five largest export markets outside the EU”, and cited a deal with the US as a priority. Yet he and Jeremy Corbyn rejected TTIP and recently rejected the idea of a bilateral trade deal with President Trump. What evidence does Labour have that the terms on offer in future from the US to a Corbyn-led Government would be better than the terms Labour rejects today?

“[A] customs union agreement … would preclude us from making our own independent trade agreements with our five largest export markets outside the EU (the US, China, Japan, Australia and the Gulf states).”
Barry Gardiner, The Guardian, 25 July 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/24/leaving-eu-single-market-customs-union-brexit-britain-europe 

“We don’t want a sweetheart deal with Donald Trump that is going to look a lot like TTIP.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 23 August 2017

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/corbyn-trump-may-trade-deal_uk_599dc0e9e4b0d97c4000e7e3 

10. Jeremy Corbyn has promised to leave the Single Market in order to use state aid in ways which are not permitted under EU law. Yet the EU’s negotiating guidelines make clear that it will not sign a free trade agreement with the UK that doesn’t respect the current rules on state aid. So what is Labour’s biggest priority: using state aid in ways not permitted by the EU, or securing a free trade agreement?

“There are directives and obligations linked to the single market, such as state aid rules and requirements to liberalise and privatise public services, which we would not want to see as part of a post-Brexit relationship.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 7 September 2016
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/jeremy-corbyn-wants-britain-abandon-8787280 

“EU rules can also be a block on the action that’s needed to support our economy, decent jobs and living standards … Labour will use state aid powers in a drive to build a new economy, based on new technology and the green industries of the future.”
Jeremy Corbyn, Speech in Peterborough, 10 January 2017
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/jeremy-corbyns-brexit-speech-full-9597300 

"Any free trade agreement .. must ensure a level playing field in terms of competition and state aid, and must encompass safeguards against unfair competitive advantages through, inter alia, fiscal, social and environmental dumping."
European Council (Art. 50) guidelines for Brexit negotiations, 29 April 2017
http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/04/29-euco-brexit-guidelines/