By Lara Santos Ayllón
Labour’s position on the single market has been difficult to pinpoint, mainly due to the contrasting opinions comprising the party. Ideologically left – wing, Labour is in a sticky situation, balancing progressive policies and perspectives on community and integration whilst supposedly also representing a working class that voted Brexit to block the influx of immigration supposedly taking British jobs.
Corbyn’s original stance against the free market, equating the EU to belonging to the single market was no doubt more symbolic than anything else. Now that negotiations are underway the lines have blurred, and taking a drastic ‘strong’ Brexit stance is less advisable. The extensive links between Britain and the EU, coupled with the direct impact on individual lives means that the negotiation process is extremely dynamic. Brexit cannot be a zero-sum game, because there is simply too much to lose.
Nonetheless, it will be hard to avoid alienating the large minority of Labour supporters who voted to cut ties with EU markets and regulations, thus Corbyn is specifically defending ‘a’ instead of ‘the’ current customs union. The fear of a hard border with Northern Ireland has also contributed to this policy ‘evolution’, to avoid potentially disrupting peace enshrined in the Good Friday agreement, a win in Labour’s historical manifesto.
Further, this danger of alienation means Corbyn must have a strategic move in mind. His repeated reference to a “bespoke relationship” with the single market to ensure “EU law does not obstruct a future Labour government”, coupled with an increasing perception of May’s lack of leadership suggests that a power struggle is at play, and No. 10 is firmly on Corbyn’s radar. A strategic move to support a permanent customs union, siding with Tory rebels destabilise and undermine May’s position. Nonetheless, this could also result in continuous gridlock over Brexit negotiations. And this would be good for no one.
Image Chris Beckett via Flickr