by Samuel Dale
The UK is on the brink of a right-wing revolution much bigger than anything Margaret Thatcher managed to achieve. And Labour is simply a bystander.
Labour has yet to find its feet on the Brexit debate and it is being regularly and comprehensively outmaneuvered by the Tory right-wing and Ukip.
There is no Donald Trump protectionist right in the UK, only the libertarian tax and regulation slashers. And they are in the driving seat.
It is a relief that Theresa May has stated the obvious truth about Brexit that we are leaving the single market and customs union.
Labour has to concentrate on two big, incredibly concerning policy areas and shift the debate.
Firstly, it was obvious on 24 June 2016 that we were leaving the single market as it is no way to square the circle of leaving the EU, cutting immigration and staying in the single market. May has accepted reality.
In addition, if we are not part of the EU infrastructure than remaining in the single market would be destructive. Rules would be made and we would have to obey them without any say.
It’s gone. Instead of waffling on about single market access, Labour should focus on being a counterpoint to the intense lobbying operation that is building up in London and Brussels.
Financial services lobbyists see this as a once in a generation chance to slash red tape for banks after years of ratcheting up from the EU.
For example, the bankers’ bonus cap was imposed by the EU and opposed by the UK. Will Theresa May pledge to keeping the bonus cap? Which banking regulations will she be rolling back? How will hedge funds be regulated in Brexit Britain? Which bank chief executives will David Davis be meeting? What are they lobbying for?
These are real concerns that could flow from a trade deal and its aftermath. It would be good to get this on the agenda now for the battle ahead.
Secondly, May wants the UK to make her own trade deals so it will require a separate customs agreement with the EU.
This is fraught and more dangerous that leaving the single market because it could create new tariffs on British business. We would certainly have to pay the common external tariff for trading into the EU and may impose our own tariffs when importing too.
This would be a costly nightmare that would damage the EU and the UK. This is the now crux of the Article 50 negotiations.
More worrying though is right-wing suggestions that the UK should unilaterally end its own external tariff post-Brexit in a radical free trade drive,
This would undoubtedly lead to massive job losses across Labour heartlands. Any job that can be done cheaper abroad would be able to leave without any tariff or penalty for doing so.
It would be the equivalent of a massive strengthening of Sterling so imports become cheaper but UK companies compete with the world.
This is radical. What about Port Talbot? What about steel jobs across Britain? What about car plants and other manufacturers? If left to compete with the world and no governmental support, how many jobs will go? Is this what May is planning?
You can support free trade without dropping the nuclear option. This would be a painful shock to the British economic system more radical than anything Brexit can muster.
Thirdly, Labour must fight the possibility of the UK becoming a tax haven like Singapore to the EU’s China. An offshore fund centre with 10% corporate taxes and a welcoming home to the world’s footloose businesses.
Let’s ask questions. Which taxes would you cut? Which services would be cut? Is the NHS still safe after a Brexit tax bonanza? Would you let the deficit rise?
Let’s show the threat is hollow. May may not have the votes to push such as radical agenda in the face of EU intransigence. Labour may change its leader and make a comeback, Tories may revolt and block it. The markets may demand the deficit (remember that?) is priortised over tax cuts.
There are major concerns over the government’s Brexit response and many are slipping under the radar without Labour shining a light on them.
We must keep the pressure up to stop Brexit being turned into a vehicle for the wet dreams of libertarians who would destroy the NHS and smash the welfare state.
The single market is gone. The customs union is gone. Let’s wrestle back control of this debate before the right-wing force us down an even more radical path.
Sam Dale is a financial and political journalist