In today’s article, Nathan Kelly gives his take on Labour’s red lines for Brexit.
Early Fabian writings, of the Webbs, Shaw, et al., was littered with references to ‘science’. From the flirtation with eugenics, to the belief that an elite group of social scientists could help install British socialism by infiltrating the bureaucracy, to the notion that science could be used as a means to persuade people towards socialist thinking. The magic notion of ‘science’ was ever present. Contesting such ideas now is not purposeful, what is prescient, however, is W. H. Greenleaf’s remark on the early Fabian’s use of the word ‘science’. None of the early Fabians had any scientific training, nor were any scientifically literate, Greenleaf contended: “constant repetition [of ‘science’] was intended to inspire confidence”. In repeating a term over and over again, the Fabians sought to legitimise it and make reality of their ideas via its use – when Labour says ‘Parliamentary Scrutiny’ of Brexit, it feels eerily similar.
Alas, how I do feel sorry for Keir Starmer, stuck between a rock and a hard Brexit. His six red lines are noble. Ensuring a strong and collaborative future with the EU is vital to British security interests, climate change policy and many other future challenges – hurrah! Delivering the exact same benefits as we currently in the Single Market, wonderful for minimising the economic damage Brexit looks to bring – great! Fair migration and a defence of worker’s rights – the liberal within is weeping with tears of joy. Deliverance for all regions of the UK- with the Northern powerhouse not just dead rhetoric but a decaying idea to Theresa May, this is necessary.
These red lines play into the Brexiteers hand’s. Starmer has promised Labour will vote against the Brexit deal if such demands are not met by the negotiating-maestros of May, Fox, Davies and Johnson. I wouldn’t ever – even for a moment – doubt that Liam Fox isn’t the best negotiator to set up trade talks, but regardless of the negotiating skill Britain has to offer, Starmer’s red lines will not be met. I doubt even Donald ‘Art of the Deal’ Trump could make them.
Back in June 2016, just after the Brexit vote, Angela Merkel issued a statement saying Britain could not expect any special treatment or expect to the keep the privileges of the EU without the obligations. May’s rhetoric surrounding Brexit has already made it perfectly clear that, in order to remove ourselves from the bondage of free movement, we shall be leaving both the single market and the customs union. In doing so we are risking, at least in the short-term before a concrete trade agreement, tariffs with the EU on items such as financial services, cars and cheese. It is impossible to somehow be in a position where we manage to retain the “exact same benefits” as we currently have with the EU by removing ourselves from the institutions which grant those benefits.
Labour’s refusal to vote for a Brexit that doesn’t meet its red lines plays into the Brexiteer’s hands. As already illustrated by the large fuss made over a potential divorce bill – of the money we’re obliged to pay – the hard-line Brexiteers are practically salivating to walk away from the EU negotiating table with no deal to rid themselves of the organisation. Refusal to vote for a final-deal on Brexit plays into their hands, if they rebel with Labour then we walk away – with no deal.
Simply repeatedly saying Labour will scrutinise and hold the government to account in accordance with their red lines does not make this a reality. The red lines make a hard Brexit more, not less, likely. True scrutiny would be to divert the government’s hands towards a Brexit that does deliver the same benefits, fair immigration and regional support. But in voting for a hard Brexit and rejecting the Lord’s amendments beforehand, Labour’s six lines trying to force the government are useless.
They render Labour in a position where we now face a May hard Brexit or a Farage harder Brexit. Repeating otherwise is woefully hopeful thinking.