Menu

Mandelson – May must not be given blank cheque for hard Brexit

The focus of the general election campaign should be to prevent Theresa May from being given a “blank cheque for a hard Brexit”, former Business Secretary and EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson has said.

Writing in the Evening Standard, Lord Mandelson, a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign, said that there is a “real choice” in this general election, between a hard Brexit and “strong parliamentary opposition to the Tories” which will fight for “the best economic settlement” for the UK.

It comes in the week that Open Britain, along with the European Movement and Britain for Europe, launched its key seats strategy, directing volunteers to campaign for incumbent pro-European MPs, and against pro-hard Brexit MPs, in 40 seats around the country. In the two days since the list was launched, over 15,000 people have used the tool. 

He said: 

“The most important reason to slow them down is where they are heading on Brexit. They are not yet taking the entire British economy over a cliff but unless they are checked that is a very real possibility.

“‘Look before you leap’ should be our maxim in the Brexit talks, not because the result of last year’s referendum doesn’t matter but because those who voted Leave did not do so to make Britain poorer and themselves worse off.”

On the Brexit deal the Government should be aiming for, Lord Mandelson said the UK would be “accommodated” if it sought to stay in the Single Market and reform immigration after Brexit. He said: “Already Mrs May has made a negotiating error in narrowing her options — just to make her party happy — and ruling out ways in which Britain can both leave the EU and retain its trading rights in the single market. We could do as Norway did when its public voted against joining the EU in the Nineties — it opted instead to become part of the European Economic Area.”

On Labour’s position on Brexit, he said:

“Earlier this week Labour shared more of its thinking about the Brexit negotiations. Keir Starmer was clearly giving himself more wriggle-room to test the options available and to keep open the possibility that, on the right terms, Britain would negotiate to remain in the single market after leaving the EU.

“If this is the best economic settlement — the one that secures the greatest continuity of our existing trade — it must be the right choice. It would mean politics was no longer driving the negotiation — hardline, dog-in-the-manger Tory politics — and that growth and prosperity were put first. Yes, it would involve compromise but give and take would need to be offered by everyone, ourselves and the EU.

“This is the outcome worth voting for. That’s why candidates’ views should be closely examined and judged not on the basis of some foregone conclusion but in the country’s long-term interests.” 

/ends 

Notes to editors:

The link to the op-ed is here: http://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/peter-mandelson-look-before-you-leap-has-to-be-the-best-approach-to-brexit-a3525416.html

The key seats list is here: http://www.open-britain.co.uk/key_seat_list_2017

The full text of the op-ed follows: 

For voters who cringe at the thought of ever-growing opinion poll leads for the Tories and who do not want to be steamrollered into a hard Brexit, this election has not started well. Voters are not exactly blessed with choice and I suspect many just do not know how they are going to vote. 

Many will not want to support Theresa May but do not see an alternative in Jeremy Corbyn. They will toy with the idea of voting Liberal Democrat but then wonder: what is the point? 

As there was no real purpose in calling the election, apart from Mrs May’s desire for a bigger majority, the verdict of most voters will be that it’s all a waste of time. And who can say they are wrong?  What is the point of an election when voters are not given a genuine choice? 

But if there is not a positive to vote for, there is always a negative — and in this case it is to stop the Tories grabbing a runaway victory that will give them a blank cheque to do what they want.

The most important reason to slow them down is where they are heading on Brexit. They are not yet taking the entire British economy over a cliff but unless they are checked that is a very real possibility.

I have to give them one thing on Brexit. The Government has certainly got message discipline: there’s only one path and it is on it. People with different ideas are not democrats. Those who want to hold up the rush are “saboteurs”, to quote the Daily Mail. Anyone who thinks there are different ways to skin this cat is betraying the country.

The Sun recently devoted an entire editorial to my own “treachery” because I had the temerity to suggest that with Britain heading for the exit door, the rest of the EU were entitled to look after their own interests rather than ours. For some reason this was not obvious to the wise heads who run that newspaper.

But these are the same people who have been pumping out the propaganda that Europe needs us more than we need it and that a trade deal with Europe on better terms than we enjoy now is within our grasp. And, if not, we have other options to turn to — the US, China, India and all those other major economies that apparently owe us a living. 

For more than four years, as Europe’s Trade Commissioner, I negotiated with these and other countries. They are all at different stages of development and protection of their markets. But one thing they have in common is that they do not regard trade as some sort of charity auction in which the best prizes go to those who plead the most. International trade negotiation is a rough, tough business, not for the chaste or tender-hearted. If Mrs May thinks other countries are lining up to do us favours just because we ask nicely, she will be disappointed.

This is why “full steam ahead” out of our biggest existing export market is neither the best nor the only option. There are different ways to honour the mandate of the referendum and different choices we can make about what our future relationship with the European Union should be. The only red lines we should set in the negotiations should be a refusal to sacrifice our prosperity or compromise our economic interests. 

“Look before you leap” should be our maxim in the Brexit talks, not because the result of last year’s referendum doesn’t matter but because those who voted Leave did not do so to make Britain poorer and themselves worse off.

There are all sorts of ways for Britain to make a deal with Europe and that’s why all those standing as candidates in this election should be asked to make clear that they will keep an open mind on the negotiations before agreeing to any irrevocable step.

Already Mrs May has made a negotiating error in narrowing her options — just to make her party happy — and ruling out ways in which Britain can both leave the EU and retain its trading rights in the single market. We could do as Norway did when its public voted against joining the EU in the Nineties — it opted instead to become part of the European Economic Area, which gives you the same rights to trade although with less say in deciding the rules that govern that trade.

The same option is available to Britain but with a difference: we have a bigger economy than Norway, we are more important to the rest of Europe and with the pre-eminent status of a recent influential member of the EU. If, with one foot still in the European camp, we asked for flexible terms, for example in how freedom of movement operates, we would be listened to and, in my view, accommodated. The Prime Minister will not be given this chance if she simply continues as she has started, by laying down the law and spelling out where she won’t budge. By doing so she is making it harder to get the best deal for Britain.

It is clear, though, that Mrs May and the Tories are the favourites on June 8. This election may not result in a change of government but that does not mean there is not a real choice to be made. A strong parliamentary opposition to the Tories will stop the Prime Minister being given a blank cheque for hard Brexit. 

Earlier this week Labour shared more of its thinking about the Brexit negotiations. Keir Starmer was clearly giving himself more wriggle-room to test the options available and to keep open the possibility that, on the right terms, Britain would negotiate to remain in the single market after leaving the EU.

If this is the best economic settlement — the one that secures the greatest continuity of our existing trade — it must be the right choice. It would mean politics was no longer driving the negotiation — hardline, dog-in-the-manger Tory politics — and that growth and prosperity were put first. Yes, it would involve compromise but give and take would need to be offered by everyone, ourselves and the EU.

This is the outcome worth voting for. That’s why candidates’ views should be closely examined and judged not on the basis of some foregone conclusion but in the country’s long-term interests.

/ends




Donate Volunteer Campaign News
Promoted by James McGrory on behalf of Open Britain Ltd, both of Tenter House, 45 Moorfields, London, EC2Y 9AE.