Angela Rayner appeared on Channel 4 news this week, alongside Vince Cable and Ken Clarke. They were all supposed to be on there essentially as Team Remain, but the cracks began to appear very quickly in this façade. Partly due to differences of opinion on how to deal with austerity, but not surprisingly it had more to do with the opacity of Labour’s stance on how Brexit should be handled.
“We in the Labour Party have always been clear on what should happen with Brexit,” Rayner said, to which the rest of the panel could only guffaw. When asked for clarity, Rayner seemed to be suggesting that Labour’s stance involves staying in the single market and the customs union – if so, this directly clashes with what Corbyn and McDonnell have been saying on the matter.
When asked by Robert Peston right after the election if Labour would push for single market membership retention, McDonnell was relatively clear to start with: “I think people will interpret membership of the single market as not respecting that referendum.” I say relatively, and “to start with”, since he went on a few seconds later to say something incredibly stupid which appeared to contradict this: he mentioned what Labour wanted was “access to the single market on a tariff-free basis.” He knows the only way that will be achieved is by staying in the single market.
Labour managed to play Brexit very effectively during the general election campaign. They made themselves appear Brexity enough to keep the UKIP-Tory waverers on side (which is what really swung the election away from May, not loads of students piling up votes in safe Labour seats), while seeming at the same time to be the “stop Brexit” choice for many others. But as the negotiations proceed, two things are almost certain to happen: one, the choices about what to do in regards to Brexit will become tangible, and Labour will be forced off the fence on things like single market membership; two, the public’s understanding on these matters is going to grow enormously over the next two years, so Labour will not be able to continue bullshitting on this quite so effectively as they are now. Once more people understand that tariff free access will only come by accepting freedom of movement of labour, Labour will be forced to say something coherent on the matter. At that point, they will no longer be able to be all things to Leavers and Remainers.
I understand why Corbyn and McDonnell want to leave the single market, which is for the same reasons they want to leave the EU. Inside the EU or single market, you can’t go around making laws that allow you to “requisition” (that’s left-wing for “steal”) people’s property; there are international rules that need to be observed on such things. This is inconvenient when you want to enact a socialist revolution to say the least. Which is another thing Corbyn and McDonnell will find harder to continue to be two-faced regarding as time goes by as well.