Corbyn’s Brexit policy is a messy compromise
Those who know Jeremy Corbyn know that he’s for Leave. His vision of a largely state-owned, state-run economy is not compatible with membership of the Single Market.
It never has been. Corbyn’s euroscepticism has its roots in the honourable left-wing critique of a corporatist club run in the interests of capital, not labour. (Looking at youth unemployment rates in bailed-out southern states, who could disagree?)
The challenge for Corbyn, now that he finds himself leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, is that when it comes to Labour MPs, hard-left criticism of the EU is a position of the few, not the many.
The vast majority of Labour MPs backed Remain, and continue to advocate the closest possible ties with the bloc. Leaving aside the fact that almost nine in 10 Labour constituencies voted Leave, Corbyn has to lead a party that seeks to define itself against the idea of a “hard, Tory Brexit”.
Enter, Sir Keir Starmer – shadow Brexit secretary and MP for a decidedly pro-Remain central London seat. Starmer has been pulling Corbyn towards a “softer” Brexit for months, and as the government inches towards a coherent Brexit policy, Corbyn must slide off the fence and pick a side.
So today we will be treated to that rarest of things: a speech on Brexit by the leader of the opposition. We know that he will reiterate Starmer’s Sunday morning TV pledges to stay in a customs union. This is a big deal, because doing so would mean the UK remained hitched to the EU as far as trade is concerned, unable to have an independent trade policy and forever a passenger on whichever direction the EU decides to take.
Staying in a customs union with the EU amounts to staying in the EU, and advocates of such a policy should be honest enough to say so. Corbyn’s new position on customs union membership should placate Labour’s moderate MPs, while a pledge to secure concessions from the EU on rules concerning state aid and competition would allow him to nationalise what he doesn’t subsidise.
It’s an unworkable and absurd mash of policies masquerading as a coherent strategy. But this isn’t a pitch to EU negotiators, it’s a pitch to unify the two wings of his party – and put pressure on Theresa May. In that, it may well work.