Jeremy Corbyn: Pragmatic or Political?
Jeremy Corbyn has today delivered a keynote speech in Coventry. After months of speculation, of ups-and-downs, of rumours and denial, the Labour Party has decided to put some clear water between them and the Conservative Party on Brexit.
Corbyn has attempted to outflank the Conservatives with the business community by placing the customs union firmly on the table if Labour took over Brexit negotiations.
The customs union policy would prevent Britain from signing independent trade deals, but Corbyn insisted that the country should still be involved in EU-wide negotiations.
The move appears to be political; Corbyn now has a distinct policy on the EU that is different from the Tories. The Labour Party has been accused in recent months of being more uncertain than the Government on Brexit. But crucially, it may give him the ability to entice rebel Tory MPs, who don’t approve of the Government’s position on the customs union. This in turn could force a snap election and would give the Opposition Leader a realistic chance of gaining government and delivering a Labour Brexit.
The move however, raises just as many questions as it answers; looking at the details it seems he is asking for the same principle as the Tories. He wants his cake and to eat it too. It just happens to be a different cake.
Corbyn wants to be inside a customs union with close alignment and privileged access to the single market. Yet he implies that he doesn’t want to pay into the EU budget for this privilege. In fact, he suggests in the speech that he can negotiate a deal that returns £8 billion a year of Brexit savings into jobs and public services.
This proposal sounds excellent but it is as unrealistic as the kind of relationship the Tory right expect to be able to achieve. A future Labour government cannot simply arrive in Brussels and say, “given we’re not the Tories, give us everything you wouldn’t give them.” On paper it can be a good idea but in reality it lacks any form of pragmatism.
What this shows us is that the new position is not about what a Corbyn government would actually do in power. Rather it is about building an electoral coalition to put Jeremy Corbyn in power, this is a political message more than a practical message. Corbyn has created a clear ocean of difference between him and the Conservative Party but at the end of the day he still wants his cake and to eat it too.