North East Labour politicians show support for continued Single Market and Customs Union membership

26 February 2018

Six North East politicians, including MEPs Jude Kirton-Darling and Paul Brannen, signed a statement to the Observer encouraging Labour to support the call for the UK to stay in the Single Market. The wording of the letter, in total signed by over 80 senior Labour figures, can be found below: 

"The Government is almost half way through the negotiation of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.  At this moment in our history, when the country needs leadership and a vision of the future, the Tory government provides neither.  As Jeremy Corbyn said this week, with a Prime Minister held to ransom by the hard right of her party and unable to provide any direction, ‘they are on the road to nowhere’ because they cannot agree on our future relationship with the EU.

In the absence of any leadership from the Government, our party has a historic opportunity and a duty to set out a clear direction for our country.  Working in the national interest with elected representatives from other parties, our party can help marshal a majority for a different course which ends austerity, promotes equality, social justice and environmental sustainability.

Working through the EU Customs Union we have no tariffs on goods traded with our closest neighbours, we apply the same tariffs to goods from outside the EU and we have the benefit of over 60 trade deals around the world. As TUC General Secretary Francis O’Grady said earlier this month, by ruling out the UK continuing to participate in the EU’s Customs Union the Tory Government is choosing to put up barriers to UK trade with Europe after Brexit which will be “bad for jobs, bad for investment and bad for business.”  That is why it is right that Labour seeks to take all necessary steps to ensure the UK permanently participates in a Customs Union on the same terms as we do now, as Shadow Cabinet members have already said we will do.

But our commitment to social justice dictates that we should also seek to participate in – not simply have ‘access’ to - the EU’s Single Market.  Why?  Because the Single Market is more than a free trade zone between EU countries. It is a framework of rules - including on employment rights, consumer and environmental standards - that protects people from the worst excesses of globalisation and unfettered capitalism.  As set out in the recent Labour Campaign for the Single Market/Open Britain pamphlet, ‘Busting the Lexit Myths’, it is no capitalist club, which is precisely why the Single Market is hated by the Tory right; nor does it stand in the way of us delivering on our manifesto promises.

Indeed, if we want to be able to fund our anti-austerity investment programme we can’t afford the multibillion pound hit to the public finances that leaving the Single Market would entail. We can only properly fund local services, schools, hospitals, social care and international development if our businesses thrive and our economy grows. And, if we want to build a modern, low-carbon economy that protects workers and tackles tax avoidance, we will only achieve it through collaboration and frictionless trade with our nearest neighbours.

So - as a minimum - Labour must clearly and unambiguously set as a negotiating objective the goal of remaining part of the European Economic Area, in order to participate on a permanent basis in the Single Market. Other non EU countries are in the European Economic Area, the EU has said this option is available to us and it is the only way we can continue to enjoy the exact same economic benefits of our existing arrangements if Brexit happens.  Theresa May has ruled this out - the vast majority of those who voted for us last year did so in the belief that we would do all we can to oppose this.

Above all, the prospect of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland poses a threat to the Good Friday Agreement.  Helping to bring it about was one of our party’s greatest achievements.  Colum Eastwood, the leader of our sister party the SDLP, said this week that “the people of Northern Ireland want - but also need - the UK to stay in both the single market and customs union to protect us from a hard border”. He put it well when he said “we shouldn't play games with the peace process or with our economy”, leaving no room for fudge or ambiguity.  This is a view reiterated by the Irish Government.

Given the parliamentary arithmetic and the numbers of Parliamentarians from other parties – including Conservative backbencher - who have indicated they will join us in this endeavour, our country’s continued participation in a Customs Union and the Single Market is now in the Labour Party’s hands.  For the sake of building a better Britain and safeguarding those our party was founded to protect, we must grab this chance before it is too late.  We will never be forgiven if we fail to do so."

 

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