The Brexit choice is clear, and voices within Labour will continue to push for the economic interests of the country, writes Pat McFadden MP
Before the general election it looked as though the United Kingdom’s Brexit path was clear: nationalist ideology would trump economic interest. There would be no single market, whatever the damage, no customs union, whatever the damage, and no European Courts of Justice, no matter how much unnecessary and costly duplication it would lead to. Hard Brexit at any and all costs. And anyone who questioned it was to be monstered as an unpatriotic saboteur.
Two things happened to place a question mark over this course.
Firstly, the election robbed the Tories of their majority, thereby empowering parliament and meaning that the government would have to take more seriously the wishes of members of parliament from across the parties, including the pro-Europeans within the Conservative party.
Secondly, the negotiations with the European Union began, and with them the realisation that Brexit will not be simply a wish list from Tory ministers – it will be what can be agreed between two sides round the table. This latter point was graphically illustrated at the first meeting on the first day, when David Davis had to concede to the EU’s demands on sequencing of the talks, despite the UK government’s article 50 letter demanding four times that the future trade agreement be discussed alongside the EU divorce process.
These two events have emboldened voices arguing for a different course. Within the cabinet, chancellor Philip Hammond, in open rebellion, says we have to put the economy first in the talks. He calls for a long transition phase, illustrating the dangers of leaving in the first place. And he says it would be madness not to have a close trading relationship with the EU in the future.
In a highly significant interview, James Chapman, former chief of staff to David Davis, exposed the frustration with May’s red lines even among some Brexiteers who think the ideological approach to the ECJ is leading to needless decisions like leaving Euratom and other EU agencies. This course will add huge costs to the UK taxpayer for needless duplication of functions, simply because the government cannot bear the thought of the ECJ touching any part of British life.
Business too is speaking up more, as the economy slows, investment in the car industry drops steeply and the dangers of a hard Brexit become clearer. Last week the Confederation of British Industry called for continued membership of the customs union and single market until a new deal with the EU comes into force. This call is significant because there is huge scepticism that the government will achieve its aim of negotiating divorce from the EU and having a future trade agreement not just agreed but ready to come into force within two years.
And within Labour, more voices are calling for the ditching of the ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ mantra in the knowledge that ‘no deal’ is a gun held to our own heads, and for the customs union and the single market to remain on the table. The amendment tabled to the Queen’s speech is unlikely to be the last parliamentary vote on these matters.
The question going forward is what interest will come out on top – the national interest or the nationalist interest? Will the next two years be dominated by the same kind of hard Brexit ideology on display in the run up to the election or will we put the economic interests of the people first, their living standards, their prosperity and our place in the world?
Between the referendum and now, the shape of Brexit has been a theory. Reality and choices will soon come before us and we will have to decide whether to put the national interest first or nationalism first.
Pat McFadden is member of parliament for Wolverhampton South East
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