Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, in an article for The Guardian, has said transitional arrangements should be based on the current situation, with the UK retaining access to the Customs Union and the Single Market, rather than wasting time trying to negotiate some ‘bespoke’ arrangement.
It’s a far cry from the Tory determination to clear out of the CU and the SM with unseemly speed, but it is no different from Labour’s previously-stated policy. Indeed, Mr Starmer goes on to state explicitly that the UK must retain the benefits of the Customs Union and the Single Market in any future partnership deal. That has been Labour policy for a long time.
So what has changed?
Perhaps the commentators are crowing because the Conservative attitude has been changing with the wind, and Labour’s re-statement of its demands has created a sharp contrast.
The Tories want out of the CU and the SM. They want to faff about with a ‘bespoke’ transitional arrangement. They want to delay and distract from the main issue of life after Brexit, and they are already being satirised for it (see the cartoon, above).
Here’s what Mr Starmer had to say in his Guardian piece:
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.
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. Given that UK-EU combined import/export trade totalled £553bn last year, this certainty would be hugely advantageous for British businesses and consumers. This arrangement would also safeguard the important social protections and rights that come from being within the single market.
It is a grown-up acknowledgement that bespoke transitional arrangements are highly unlikely to be negotiated, agreed and established in the next 18 months… It provides maximum certainty for businesses and allays concerns that there will be delays or disruptions to trade when we leave the EU in March 2019. It would also ensure there will be a one-step transition to a new final relationship.
It provides more time to resolve the complex question of the Northern Ireland border. Labour is clear that this extremely serious issue must not be rushed and that a considered agreement needs to be reached that prevents a hard border and has support from all communities. The government’s policy paper on this was incredibly light on detail and gave precious little reason to believe this will be resolved satisfactorily by March 2019.
It would enable negotiations to focus on the central Brexit issue: the nature of the new partnership that needs to be built between the UK and the EU. This is challenging enough without having to negotiate separate transitional arrangements at the same time.
Labour also recognise that this transitional arrangement would – for all its merits – be imperfect and prove unsustainable beyond a limited period.
It would not provide a durable or acceptable long-term settlement for Britain or the EU. It would not provide certainty for either party. It leaves unresolved some of the central issues the referendum exposed – in particular the need for more effective management of migration, which Labour recognise must be addressed in the final deal.
That is why a transitional period under Labour will be as short as possible, but as long as is necessary.
transitional arrangements must be a bridge to a strong and lasting new relationship with the EU – not as members, as partners… It must be based on a deal that, as Labour made clear in our manifesto, retains the benefits of the customs union and the single market.
This is a public relations move.
With the Tories weakened, Labour is in an excellent position to exploit their divisions.
By acting decisively – setting out positive terms for forward movement that expose the Conservatives’ “constructive ambiguity” as the waffle that it is – Mr Starmer and Labour have shown that they are prepared to make the decisions that David Davis and his ill-prepared negotiators won’t – or can’t, because their party is divided on it?
With the EU Withdrawal Bill back in the Commons for its Second Reading on September 7, Labour has a chance to woo pro-EU Tory MPs towards what is, let’s face it, a clear plan for progress.
Theresa May is trying to keep her backbenchers in line with invitations to Chequers for events that one disillusioned Tory described as “giving the dogs a stroke” – so it seems Labour’s strategy may work.
On Brexit, Labour is in the ascendant. The Conservatives have nothing to win – and everything to lose.
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