Over the weekend, Labour clarified its Brexit position. A little bit anyhow, which given how foggy it has been up until this point seems like a lot to most observers. Basically, Labour have said that during the transitional period, Britain should remain in the single market and the customs union. No further clarity on what Brexit should look like after the transition, mind, but at least the transition they have sorted. Sort of. They say it should last about three years, but maybe two, but that it seems we shouldn’t overly worry about how long it should last for now as apparently these sorts of arrangements are “unstable” and so it will fall apart at some point anyhow. Not sure how what is basically the status quo, an arrangement that in everyway counts will be the same one we’ve had for over forty years, will fall apart of its own volition but perhaps the Labour frontbench knows something I do not.
Cutting through the bullshit, Labour’s latest stance isn’t that big a deal and doesn’t change very much. For all of its bluster, the government are headed towards single market/customs union during the transition anyhow, as the EU is never going to go for anything that isn’t off the shelf during this period (as I’ve said before, the whole point of a transition is that it is something easy that could be worked out quickly), and there’s no time for anything else to be worked out anyway. Labour could have stuck with a hard Brexit stance and that would have given them a stick to hit the government with when the inevitable climb down on leaving the SM/CU occurs for transitional arrangements – but that would put them too far in the Brexit camp to hold onto the Remainy membership comfortably. In essence, the announcement on transitional arrangements is just more of the same from the Labour leadership: mirroring what the Tories plan to do, just fudging certain aspects of it to sound less Brexity when needs be.
I suppose it makes the cave in on SM/CU easier for the Tories to do, as they can just say they had no option in the House of Commons given Labour’s position (in other words, they can make Labour take as much of the blame on this as possible). Now while I’m all for parties working together in the national interest, it is weird that Labour is making it easier for the Tories to get round this little problem, isn’t it? Then again, Labour’s Brexit position fudges seem to have worked pretty well for them so far, and so perhaps this one will work better than I can possibly predict from where I’m sitting. Best of luck to them.
Hypothesis: Labour want the ‘transition period’ to (a) be essentially the status quo and (b) last until after the next general election, in the hope that, if they win it, cancelling Brexit will be simple as nothing will actually have happened?
[Or, alternatively, they are hoping that if they win the election they can hold onto both their Remain and Leave voters by making the transitional period permanent, thus claiming both to have achieved Brexit, and to effectively have stayed in the EU, depending on whether they are in London or the North at the time.]