I’ve written a lot about this already, I realise. Yet the problem not only persists, it is getting much, much worse by the day. It is hard for me to rationalise how a lot of Labour supporters are rationalising this all themselves; harder still for me to understand how pro-EU Corbyn supporters manage to square this circle.
Corbyn was on Marr over the weekend. His words on single market membership were as unambiguous as Corbyn ever gets – which is still pretty bloody ambiguous, but still:
“The single market is dependent on membership of the EU. What we have said all along is that we want a tariff-free trade access to the European market and a partnership with Europe in the future. The two things are inextricably linked so the question then is the kind of trade relationship of the future and we have made it very clear we want a tariff-free trade access with the European market.”
Asked about whether this applied to membership of the Customs Union, Corbyn had this to say:
“We haven’t jumped on either side of that fence but, again, the Customs Union is part of the European Union.”
Several things to say here. One, being part of the Single Market or the Customs Union is not the same as EU membership, as Norway, Switzerland, Turkey – we could be listing countries for a while here – all demonstrate. So the statement “The single market is dependent on membership of the EU” is simply a lie, and Corbyn must surely know that. However, Corbyn seems to be saying here that the UK should leave the Single Market but maybe, possibly remain inside the Customs Union, still not sure there. Okay, the EU referendum was over a year ago – how can Labour still have no firm position on whether or not to remain in the Customs Union? That it completely insane. Say whatever you want about Eurosceptic Tories such as Rees-Mogg, at least he’s worked out what his position is on the most important issue of our age.
Because that’s what it is. Whether or not we remain inside of the SM and/or the CU are not minor, technical issues – which “side of the fence” the UK ends up on regarding these questions will define everything from the economy and its shape, the NHS, the UK’s position and influence in the world, everything you can think of, actually, for the next generation at the very least. It is not okay for the leader of the opposition to be playing games with this stuff.
Just for fun, we have, of course, had two insanely opposite viewpoints on this from major Labour figures since the Corbyn-Marr interview. Barry Gardiner, the shadow international trade secretary, said this last night:
“If you do what Norway does, what happens is the very reasons that most people who voted leave, voted to leave – namely to regain sovereignty, to regain control of our borders, not to pay money into the European budget – all are not achieved . To adopt the Norwegian situation would be to become a vassal state, because you actually end up paying money into the EU budget but you have less control over the regulations than you do now with a seat round the table.”
Gardiner seemed to be clarifying the Corbyn line and stressing that Labour’s position is that leaving the Single Market is not only something that Labour think is sensible, it is a move they think is vital. And then, this morning, Carwyn Jones, the Labour Welsh First Minister, had this to say on the matter:
“If we were not in the Single Market, we would be having a debate about how to access it, not how to leave it. There is no need to leave the Single Market, even as we leave the EU…..I went to Norway in January, they are not members of the EU, but they have almost full access to the Single Market. You don’t have to leave the EU and leave one of the world’s biggest markets at the same time. That’s an interpretation that’s been put on the result by the current UK government and that makes no sense at all.”
What Jones had to say on the subject is the literal opposite of Gardiner’s position, as well as directly contradicting Corbyn’s line of SM membership and EU membership being synonymous. Again, this isn’t a minor issue – it is the defining one of the age. Labour cannot continue to do this for much longer. People will eventually catch on.