An end to ‘constructive ambiguity’

Labour’s position on the single market is good for small and medium-sized businesses and workers alike, writes SME4Labour chair Ibrahim Dogus

Last week, Keir Starmer – shadow secretary of state for exiting the European Union – clarified Labour’s approach to Brexit, saying that there would be no ‘constructive ambiguity’ as with the Tory government. The Labour frontbench now proposes a transitionary period of single market membership from March 2019 that is ‘as short as possible, but as long as is necessary’ while bespoke arrangements that benefit both sides can be hammered out. Labour is also now much more clearly defending existing links with the EU that extend beyond trade, such as scientific collaboration, education and medicine – links that the ramshackle Tory Brexit team threatens to jeopardise.

After the announcement, Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady commented that Labour’s policy ‘is a sensible and reasonable approach to take. Sticking with our current deal during the transition will give working people certainty on their jobs and rights at work.’ She went on to say that ‘keeping all options on the table is the best negotiating strategy. The government were wrong to rule out staying in the single market. Instead of inflexible posturing to appease Tory hardliners, ministers should aim for a Brexit deal that put jobs and workers’ rights first.’

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey echoed O’Grady’s statement, arguing that ‘access to the single market and the customs union is vital to secure tens of thousands of jobs across the country, particularly in our manufacturing heartlands where the Tories’ hard Brexit could have catastrophic consequences.’ While the Tories prioritise arbitrary immigration targets that will damage our economy, Labour – with the support of leading trade unionists who represent thousands of workers – offers an approach that truly puts jobs and workers at the heart of its strategy.

As well as providing reassurance for workers whose jobs rely on the United Kingdom retaining close ties with the EU, the sharpening of Labour’s Brexit policy is also a good move for Britain’s small and medium-sized enterprises. Without the many resources of highly mobile big businesses, SMEs are at significant risk from a potential ‘no deal’ scenario. Labour’s transitional single market plan would allow for the extended period of readjustment and stability that SMEs sorely need to get through this period of uncertainty and change, preventing falling off the much-feared cliff-edge.

While the interests of big corporations and workers differ, those of SMEs and workers, especially the self-employed, very often align. For example, both worker and small business lose out from the vast regional inequalities in the UK – inequalities that will widen even further if we do not guarantee regional funding when we lose access to the EU’s structural funds. Under a Labour government, continued funding combined with regional investment banks would help to create a more equal society and a more dynamic, pro-investment environment for SMEs to do business in. It is right that concerns around inequality, workers’ rights and conditions for business should all inform Labour’s approach to Brexit related and non-Brexit related issues.

This is not about Labour becoming the party of ‘soft Brexit’ – Labour is now the party of pragmatic Brexit, of a Brexit that is ambitious and works for the whole of the UK, its workers and small businesses.

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Ibrahim Dogus is director of the Centre for Turkey Studies and Chair of SME4Labour. He tweets at @ibrahim_Dogus

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Credit: Richard Gardner

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