Labour can’t have our cake and eat it. We need to face our Brexit responsibilities

by Jonathan Todd

Gus O’Donnell has stressed what has long been obvious about the Brexit process: “There is no way all these changes will happen smoothly and absolutely no chance that all the details will be hammered out in 20 months.” We are, therefore, starring into the abyss of a ‘no deal’ scenario.

This, according to JP Morgan, would be, “enormously disruptive to (trade) activity in the short run.” How bad? JP Morgan struggle to quantify this because, “there are no meaningful precedents for such an abrupt change.” That no one else has ever thought anything like this a good idea, should be a hint, shouldn’t it?

Living standards are being eroded by a post-referendum fall in sterling. Investment in the UK car industry has fallen by 30 per cent over the same period. Unsurprisingly, other industries are considering relocating out of a jurisdiction that can provide no clarity about the terms upon which it is soon to trade with the world.

Quelle surprise, too, to the supposed revelation that other European countries will encourage this investment to come to them. Immigrants – who might have treated our sick or picked our fruit – are departing these shores as rapidly as money is. Losing money and people is terrible for UK PLC and all our back pockets. With the CBI pushing for the softest of Brexits – inside the Customs Union and Single Market – the pressure from business on the government builds.

In not heeding these business warnings, the Tories are choosing to be the party of Brexit, not the party of business. It can no longer be both. It cannot have its cake and eat it. The ideological purity of Brexit and business pragmatism cannot coexist.

Neither – pace Rebecca Long Bailey – can Labour have its cake and eat it. We cannot sit back, watch this Tory destruction, and pretend that we have some kind of elixir known as “a jobs-first Brexit”. There is no such thing. We should be honest about that.

Billy Bragg wants us to be patient. Labour, he believes, is now only creating, “wriggle room to turn sharply when public opinion moves against leaving”. To which I’d say: first, there is evidence that the Brexit contingent among Labour voters has been overstated; second, the clock towards catastrophic Brexit – as Michel Barnier has warned – is ticking loudly.

If not now, Billy, when 79% of Labour voters would vote Remain if able to vote again, when the dangerous folly of voting otherwise gets clearer with each day, when the time before we crash out of the EU gets ever more scarce, when? When will Labour acknowledge the truth of Manuel Cortes: that there is no good Brexit and the fight to Remain must begin anew?

Never, writes John Harris. The likes of Cortes are missing something: “any sense of the backlash that would be sparked, the myth of betrayal that would sit at the heart of our politics, and the great gift likely to be handed to ugly and opportunistic forces that are still out there, waiting for their chance.”

The children must, according to Harris, suffer for the errors of their parents. Otherwise angry people will get angrier – Is this a solid justification for anything? And Britain won’t learn the lesson that Harris thinks waits for us, about the dangers of deluding ourselves about our significance, after years of self-induced impoverishment – which seems a needless, risky and costly experiment. Maybe, wrapped in a tattered Union Jack, we can grow both poorer and more deluded?

I’d rather deal in certainties: Brexit is making us poorer – and we’ve seen nothing yet; there is no such thing as soft Brexit – it stretches credulity that we can stay long-term in the Customs Union and Single Market, rule-taking ad-infinitum for 65 million people, while being outside the EU; Brexit will cause our already strained public finances to further deteriorate, the fiscal expansion that Jeremy Corbyn desires would put them under additional, possibly unsustainable pressure – we need to live in the real world on public finances and the end to austerity that Labour wants will be so much harder with Brexit.

These are the truths that Labour should tell. And – pace Bragg – soon. If, instead, Labour are anticipating inheriting the ruins of post-Brexit Britain, thinking this is the basis for any kind of viable socialism, we are both irresponsible and hubristic. Irresponsible in acquiescing in the national humiliation and generational vandalism of Brexit. Hubristic in thinking that our socialist ambitions wouldn’t be washed away in this flood.

Politics, as JK Galbraith knew, consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable. In the fog of war, they can become hard to distinguish. Seeking to assuage the anger of Brexiters, overcoming any lingering Bennite suspicion of Brussels, may be unpalatable for Corbyn.

Brexit would be disastrous. For him. For our party. And our country. We have to turn around. Starting with a leader’s speech at conference that tells Brexit’s ruinous truth.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut and will be attending a debate on Brexit and the West Midlands economy at 7pm this Wednesday at 1000 Trades, Birmingham – Details        

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17 Responses to “Labour can’t have our cake and eat it. We need to face our Brexit responsibilities”

  1. LordBlagger says:

    who might have treated our sick or picked our fruit – are departing these shores as rapidly as money is


    They will be minimum waged. They are in the lowest quintile of earners.

    In 2010/11, households in the highest quintile effectively financed the great majority of net transfer to all other households.

    Lowest quintile: received £10,153 more in benefits than paid in taxes
    Second quintile: received £9,655 more in benefits than paid in taxes
    Middle quintile: received £4,589 more in benefits than paid in taxes
    Fourth quintile: paid £4,113 more in taxes than received in benefits
    Highest quintile: paid £20,125 more in taxes than received in benefits


    So for each one that leaves the public finances are more than 10K a year better off.

  2. LordBlagger says:

    We aren’t leaving the WTO. Irrespective of us leaving the EU, and the EU’s in a dire place

    The European Union is:

    7.2% of the World Population.
    23.8% of the World’s GDP.
    58% of the World’s Welfare Spending.

    The average EU worker spends 45% of his time working for the state and the state gets first cut of his or her wages. The rest he(r) gets to spend on their family. That’s going to rise because of the debts. In the UK the debts are £425,000 per tax payer, and that includes all those off the book debts that you won’t disclose to the public.

    You know, thing like public sector worker pensions. They are owed a pension. There are quite a few of them. That’s a debt. Not included in the state debt number is it. Ditto for the plebs and the state pension. No assets to pay those, since the welfare state spent all the wealth.

    So its time to say, bye bye and bail out.

    Now for trade. We aren’t leaving the WTO. Nothing changes with regard to the WTO bar from we negotiate for the UK and not the EU. All EU countries are members in their own right, and they are all “bound” to use WTO jargon.

    We can’t impose tariffs on French wine, because that would be illegal. They would go to the WTO and get penalty tariffs against us. Ditto for vice versa.

    Tariffs and barriers to trade can only ratchet down unless BOTH sides agree. Why would the UK agree?

  3. john P Ried says:

    maybe 79% of labour voters would vote remain if able to vote again but most know they can’t vote again and wouldn’t try to stop the democratic result, and if anything want to make the best of it

    yes there was a view among Guardianistas, that as the SUn wanted brexit and they have a right wing view and that its not a thing that liberals want then the labour party should endorse it especially after all the calling briexiters Nazis, well guess what the working class wanted brexit and the labour doesn’t appeal to the working class anymore, so keep repeating the myth that somehow the labour party,the party of the workers was right to get the majority of the remain vote out, it neglects the fact that’s because we don’t appeal to the working class anymore and the mantra ” you’re a racist if you vote leave” ,its thanks to the EU we have workers rights ,we get money for legal aid,” neglects the fact that the working class weren’t getting the benefits of a multi cultural society with cheap EU workers in Coffee bars, and the working class didn’t buy into being told that the luxuries of a Pan liberal super state where the establishment get their Corisants and EU coffee,

    well ,the working class financially had nothing so they had noting to lose with all the fear mongering aobut a crash if we left

    even if your twaddle about the public now don’t want it as there’s signs of a melt down were true ,and they’re not, the working class dont’ care, and don’t buy into this fear mongering to get them to panic

  4. James says:

    This is absurd.
    The tories have taken us on this absurd journey which leads to us leaving the European Union and will inevitably be blamed for the mess it creates. They have already owned this mess. Due to the rubbish that the Tories and their friends in the right-wing press have said in recent memory, it is basically political suicide for a Labour leader to say this. All they would be guaranteeing would be a Labour election defeat and the aftermath of Brexit occurring under a Conservative government, which would continue with their disastrous policies. I myself am massively opposed to Brexit, but now the Pandora’s Box of a referendum has been unleased it is basically impossible to put it back in and not look like anti-democrat, corrupt elites.

    In the aftermath of Brexit, Britain will need to invest in the country so we can be competitive with countries still in the EU. I am therefore sick of people such as Blair coming out and basically endorsing the Tory austerity agenda by commenting that a Corbyn led Labour government coupled with Brexit would be a disaster, is if the only current alternative of a Tory government destroying our public services would be a success.

  5. Tafia says:

    Why do you keep obsessing about a deal? There isn’rt going to be one – get used to the idea.

    I was a reluctant Leaver – if the EU had made genuine concessions to Cameron I would have voted Remain. But I am now a committed Leaver – it’s obvious to all but an idiot that the EU is not capable of nor desirous to make any major structural reforms.

    Lik most Leavers I support ‘out means out – out of all of it, the lot’. A deal therefore is not a requirement. All we are currently doing is playing for time by pretending to negotiate – quite literally running the clock down deiberately. Come March 2019 there will be no deal for the European Parliament to vote on and obstruct, no deal for our Parliament to vote on and we will literally just fall out of the EU. Remember, Article 50 has been signed, we are out in no more than 24 months from then (I suspect it may be sooner) unless we ask for an extension AND the entire Council of Ministers votes in favour, or the EU asks for an extensionAND the entire Council of Ministers including us vote in favour. Neither scenario is likely to happen.

    If Labour wants the government to get a deal then it is going to have to get involved and play a more active part – but unfortunately for Labour, when offered the chance last week they firmly rejected it – which was probaly the governments plan all along.

    We are going. Stop the continual whining, face up to reality and deal with it.

  6. Anon says:

    Strange – that a pro-war economist is for the UK staying in the EU abomination, and little old peace-loving, working class me is wholly against.

    I would suggest that it is a matter of who loses the most on the UK leaving the EU.

    Speak for yourself Mr Todd – I would eat dirt to rid myself of Juncker and co.

  7. joh nP Reid says:

    did you see on that only 23% of labour members are now working class

  8. Let’s just for the sake of argument take Jonathan’s figures at face value. So he tells us 79% of Labour voters would vote remain. Now Labour had 40% of the voters at the election, so saying we lost the other 21% of them it would leave us with 31.6% of the electorate. Now the Tories had 42.4% of the electorate and the Liberals 7.4%. I wonder how many of them Jonathan estimates will either switch to a pro-remain Labour or just not vote?

    What is so annoying is the very people who are complaining about our lost northern working class vote want to do what would make the losses worse.

  9. Rob says:

    Another anti-Brexit article?? I voted to Remain but trying to block Brexit is yesterday’s (lost) battle – the game is over, we’re leaving.

  10. leslie48 says:

    Mr Corbyn avoided being straight with regional Labour voters last year and he still continues …in the whole of the last PMQs before summer recess he hardly mentioned Brexit. He repeatedly avoids telling his voters what Brexit means to their economic futures. He fails to preach the tragedy of our impending exit and as such he fails firstly as a Labour statesman confronted with the worst economic bombshell for the working class post war and secondly his failure to confront the hard right Brexit discourse of Farage, Johnson and Gove he is colluding in his own defeat be it from the UKIP threat , other progressive parties and the right wing media. Its coming and it will be so commercially ferocious that the idea of fiscal expansion as we become isolated from our 32 more intelligent trading and European neighbours- will be absolutely politically impossible as sterling and our borrowing needs are globally trounced. Corbyn’s job is to make the public grasp the Brexit horror not hide away from it as he did today in PMQs

  11. Will says:

    Would a Corbyn led government really pursue a policy which ( pretty well all academic economists agree ) would diminish trade, slow or even reverse growth, create unemployment and reduce government revenue?

  12. Pam Ryan says:

    It is nothing short of astonishing that the terrifying incoherence of the Brexit debate has persisted to this day. The encouraging thing, though, is the fact that the Tories are too stupid or two blinded by dogma to understand that austerity was the dominant issue during last month’s election campaign and it will be the dominant issue at the next one. Labour are going to win.

  13. philip martin says:

    We’re leaving. Good riddance to the unelected dictators in Brussells. But where are we going ? Neither May nor Corbyn know. Or if they do they won’t say.

    A FTA within the timeframe allowed is a complete non starter. May is too thick to know that. Corbyn is determined to say nothing, either way.

    When we leave without a deal we become a third country. That means no lorries or planes allowed into europe.

    Leaving is a process, not an event. Getting rid of 44 years of integration will take 10 years or more, so best to leave the EU and join EEA/EFTA while we negotiate what we really want. That means trade continues as now.


  14. John P Reid says:

    Pam, you’re right about Theresa trying to make the election about Brexit, labour very cleverly also standing ina pro Brexit platform, which meant the issue changed
    1 labour were anti austerity in the 2015 election, and lost
    2 if it3 years from now, the issue may have changed
    3 the Tories just got 13.7m votes 42.4%’ which is the joint second highest percent for a result since 1979 and the second highest vote a party has got since 1959

    The libdems are electing a orange book leader,so almost everyone who votes Libdem, know they’re no cloth cap pro EU Tories,

  15. Vern says:

    At Leslie 48-is anything of what you suggest based upon facts and real evidence or just a pessimistic view of life. The sky hasnt fallen in yet and its unlikely to do so.

    I have a more optimistic and simple view of life and I genuinely think that for most they will notice no difference in their daily routines. A bit of adjustment in the price of some goods maybe but this will even itself out. And this is far outweighed by the stonking potential we will have when the shackles come off.

    Britain is an awesome country and has always punched well above its weight because it’s part of our DNA. Stand tall, be brave and picture what a positive future could be like.

  16. Zap says:

    I absolutely love the brexiteers holding to their guns on immigration.
    THe more they insist the more the UK economy is going down the drain. Hahaha!

  17. swat says:

    In fact Britain even after 40 yrars has still not ‘found its role’.
    Basically its power is diminishing, not because it is weaking but because other nations like India and Brazil etc are rising.
    Its going to be a whole new landscape in 10 years from now.
    And without the support of its european partners Britain will find itself struggling in a highly competitive global market.
    But trade is not the only reason to stay in the bloc. There are political social environmental and logistic reasons too.
    And if Corbyn doesn’t come clean and tell us where he really stands on the eu, then Labour may well have to find a new leader, who faces up to reality and doesn’t fudge on Europe.
    We need a second vote on probably the most important issue of our time. Labour must give a firm commitment at the next GE to stay in.

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