With May likely to lose the Parliamentary Brexit vote, next Tuesday is a big day in United Kingdom politics. This matters to New Zealand because both the EU and the UK are huge trade markets for us, and the result will cause major destabilization.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn believes that a loss on this in Parliament would mean that May cannot continue to govern and that a fresh election should be called. This is Corbyn’s preferred option.
I believe that a fresh election is unlikely, because the Conservative MPs like being employed.
I get that sense in this from Prime Minister May this week in Parliament commenting on many who “want another referendum which they hope would overturn the decision we took in 2016. Although I profoundly disagree, they are arguing for what they believe is right for our country, and I respect that. But the hard truth is we will not settle the issue and bring our country back together that way.”
Corbyn is comfortably sitting back waiting for the government to die, and showing no enthusiasm for a second vote either.
There’s a chance it could get through Parliament if enough Labour MP’s switch side. In June, 76 Labour MPs defied the whip to vote for the Lords’ EEA amendment to the trade bill – Labour’s largest rebellion in history. I don’t think Labour is in a position to go for a fresh election since it is too divided on the issue, an issue which would dominate any election.
Labour MPs too like being employed.
So both parties are going to need a Plan B. Some kind of renegotiation, probably.
One Plan B option is for the UK to be a strong member of the European Economic Area.
But would that retain frictionless trade with the 500 million consumers on the UK’s doorstep?
No it wouldn’t. The EEA is not a customs union and customs checks do take place between EU and non-EU EEA members, as happens on the Norwegian-Swedish border.
Could remaining in the EEA enable articles 112 and 113 of the EEA agreement to control immigration?
I don’t think that’s getting to the heart of the immigration debate in the UK. The debate right now in the EU is not about free movement of Polish plumbers. It is about old English and Anglo-Saxon and Christian traditional views clashing with Middle Eastern refugee Islamic traditions that are making the locals feel threatened. It is about immigration from outside the EU into the EU – and there are existing checks and controls on free movement into the UK which no UK government has chosen not to employ. There is no need to leave the EU to address free movement, it can be done from within.
It’s true the EEA is a well-established and fully ratified set-up. By leaving the EU and joining the EEA the UK could become the leading light in a new group of ‘outer ring’ countries that sit outside the political project while retaining the full market participation.
But the real issue is whether the UK could actually join the EEA at all. At the moment, the EEA is only open to EU members and the three (out of four) members of the European Free Trade Area which have chosen to participate. So if the UK were to leave the EU the only way to join the EEA would be through EFTA and this makes an assumption about whether the other four EFTA countries would allow the UK to join – there’s no guarantee of that at all.
There’s no goodwill for further British exceptionalism after all this.
For Corbyn’s Labour the real problem is that the EEA model does not fulfil Labour’s six tests as it is not the full single market due to agriculture and fisheries being excluded.
The UK’s agricultural and fisheries sectors would be harmed because, not being covered by the EEA, they would face import tariffs into the EU, making them less competitive in one of their largest markets and thus harming their sales and consequently farming and fishing communities.
And as part of the European Economic Area, non-EU members have to accept all EU single market rules without having a say over them. This means it doesn’t solve the begrudging resentment that the UK people feel about the EU imposing too many rules.
Labour’s 6 tests for Brexit are:
That is the place upon which Labour must form a Plan B.
To me, those are things you only get by staying in the EU in the first place.
I agree with Prime Minister May that voting it down will likely mean no Brexit at all.
Don’t imagine that if we vote this down another deal is going to miraculously appear. The alternative is uncertainty and risk.”
Both Labour and the Conservatives need a Plan B and they need it inside 48 hours.