Since Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer laid out Labour’s Brexit strategy on Tuesday, the party has been pilloried in the press and by its political opponents as being too subtle (to quote the BBC headline) on the details of exiting the European Union. Critics contend there weren’t enough hard stops on things like free movement, membership in the single market, and a second referendum – as though offering nuance and detail on what is the most complex set of negotiations and constitutional reforms since the Second World War is a bad thing. However, if you tune out the bias and Conservative Party talking points and actually listen to what Sir Keir had to say, you’ll find that Labour is offering a clear alternative to what he rightly called a “reckless Tory Brexit.”
Brexit is happening, whether we like it or not. The people have spoken and, even though those of us who supported Remain may have been heartbroken by the result, their will must be respected. The Liberal Democrats would ignore the democratic vote of the British people, while the Tories pretend the EU Referendum gives them carte blanche to dismantle the protections and turn the UK into an offshore tax haven for the wealthy. Neither of these options are in the interest of the British people, nor can they be allowed. Only Labour can guarantee Brexit while also making sure it works for all.
The most striking, and possibly important, difference between the Tories’ and Labour’s Brexit plan is that the Great Repeal Bill will be scrapped in favour of enshrining EU rights and protections into British law. This is vitally important for workers, who depend on laws governing Britain’s membership in the EU. The Great Repeal Bill will give the government the ability to repeal workers’ rights without the approval of Parliament.
Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) laid out just how high the stakes are following the release of the government’s white paper last month: “The protections affected could include your rights to full holiday pay, equal pay for women, stopping indirect discrimination because of your race or gender, and help for workers when they are outsourced to a new boss.” Furthermore, ministers would be allowed to “scrap or water down rights like protections from excessive working hours, equal treatment for agency workers, and redundancy protections.”
Obviously the Tories cannot be allowed to have free reign to scrap the protections British workers rely on. This is why Labour’s promise to scrap the Great Repeal Bill altogether, and instead protect the hard-won rights of British workers, is a promising and stark contrast to Theresa May’s attempt to circumvent Parliament and sell out employees for corporate interests and profit margins.
Still, Labour’s Brexit strategy includes recognising the needs of business. It commits to putting the economy – not xenophobia – first and foremost by retaining the benefits of the Single Market and Customs Union. This is especially vital when 45% of the nation’s exports are bound for the EU, while fully half of imports come from Europe. This further makes access to the customs union, which will allow for free trade between Britain and EU member states, vital to the British economy. If tariffs rise, the cost of goods rise – something the British people simply cannot afford.
While historically access to the single market has been predicated on free movement of people, Labour is promising that – as the British public clearly demanded in the referendum – free movement of people is coming to an end. What is not being ruled out, unlike with the Tory plans, is free movement of labour. Gone are the days of European migrants coming to Britain without a job, but industries from agriculture to hospitality to the NHS depend on workers from the EU staffing them.
By retaining free movement of labour, British workers could find employment abroad. At the same time, domestic industries so reliant on foreign labour would not have to suffer as a result of Brexit while the country continues to recruit the best and brightest from Europe and beyond. Meanwhile, control of British borders will return where it belongs: Parliament.
Parliamentary sovereignty is at the heart of Labour’s Brexit strategy, with the party promising to give Parliament a say in any deal it brings back from Brussels. This is a far cry from Theresa May, who is looking to receive a mandate for an extreme Hard Brexit without any parliamentary oversight – and contrary to the wishes of the British people, who made clear through the EU referendum that British laws should be made not by bureaucrats or unelected executives but by the British parliament.
In this, and so many other ways, the battle lines have been drawn and the choice made clear. Only Labour can be trusted to deliver a Brexit that protects British workers from Tory greed while honouring the results of the referendum. On the 8th of June the British people will decide between Theresa May’s classist, xenophobic, hard-right Brexit and Labour’s egalitarian, open, and progressive Brexit. Despite the headlines and misinformation, Labour offers a clear alternative to the Tories’ backwards, inward-looking strategy and has laid out a clear and concise roadmap for exiting the European Union in a way that benefits the many, not the few.