Monday, 26 February 2018

The politics of cake

Unfortunately, both the Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, want the same thing. Cake.

They both think that it’s possible to have their cake and eat it. That’s their answer to Brexit, and it just shows how little they understand about cakes… or how the EU functions.

Following a keynote speech by Mr Corbyn, their cakes do look a little different. But not much.

Theresa May expects to keep most of the benefits of EU membership – what she calls ‘frictionless access’ – without being an EU member, or staying in the Single Market or the EU’s Custom Union. Of course, that’s impossible.

Even before the referendum, Mrs May said that the EU was unlikely to give Britain a better deal than their own members enjoy.

Even though she’s reminded by EU leaders ad nauseum that it’s simply not possible to have her cake and eat it, she keeps expecting just that.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that Labour also wants to keep all the benefits of EU membership ‘with no new impediments to trade and no reduction in rights, standards and protections.’

But, like Mrs May, he also does not want Britain to be a member of the EU, or the Single Market, or the EU’s Custom Union.

Instead, Mr Corbyn said that Britain would be in ‘a’ customs union with the EU, but not ‘the’ customs union. Again, it just won’t work. It’s classic ‘cake and eat it’ territory.

As Sean O’Grady, deputy managing editor at The Independent, commented:

‘Jeremy Corbyn’s plan is just as fantastical as Theresa May’s’.

He explained, ‘Corbyn’s policy, like Theresa May’s, looks and feels very much like cherry-picking, but just a different set of fruit in the basket. That’s because it is.’

This was the key part of Mr Corbyn’s speech:

“Labour would seek a final deal that gives full access to European markets and maintains the benefits of the single market and the customs union as the Brexit Secretary, David Davis promised in the House of Commons, with no new impediments to trade and no reduction in rights, standards and protections.

“We have long argued that a customs union is a viable option for the final deal. So Labour would seek to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union to ensure that there are no tariffs with Europe and to help avoid any need for a hard border in Northern Ireland.

“But we are also clear that the option of a new UK customs union with the EU would need to ensure the UK has a say in future trade deals.

“A new customs arrangement would depend on Britain being able to negotiate agreement of new trade deals in our national interest.

“Labour would not countenance a deal that left Britain as a passive recipient of rules decided elsewhere by others. That would mean ending up as mere rule takers."

It’s just more cake and eat it. Mr Corbyn wants Britain to be the only country in the world to have most of the benefits of EU membership, without being beholden to the EU’s rules or way of doing things.

Yes, Mr Corbyn’s policy is a little better than Mrs May's – but only by a few crumbs.

Commented Tom Brake, the LibDems Brexit spokesman:

“The reality is there is no Brexit that is good for workers unless we stay as integrated as possible.

“Until Corbyn guarantees that we will stay in the Customs Union and Single Market, and gives people a chance to decide their own future, he continues to be Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, walking hand in hand with Theresa May towards a destructive Brexit that risks jobs, the economy, and the Union.”

Corbyn’s speech is a step in the right direction, but he will need to take many steps more in that direction to gain the support of those of us who believe that there can be no deal better than staying in the EU, as a full member, as we are now.

So my conclusion is that both Mrs May’s and Mr Corbyn’s policies on Brexit are still half-baked, with Mr Corbyn’s cake just a little more baked than Mrs May’s.

Britain - and Britons - deserve much better. 
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