You don’t love it or hate it but face it, a customs union is the only orderly Brexit

Many expected the deadlock around Brexit to be broken last night. With Labour whipping for 2 soft Brexit proposals, one could be forgiven for believing that the partisan bind which has engulfed Parliament for the last 5 months would, at last, be over. Even though none of the indicative votes gained a majority, there is at last a deal which seems able to command a majority in the Commons

The proposed customs union deal was only 3 votes away from securing a majority- the narrowest of defeats with 273 ‘Ayes’ and 276 ‘Noes’ demonstrating that, what is essentially Labour’s Brexit plan, can muster considerable support in the house.

Labour proved on Monday that it is the only party willing to offer a compromise on Brexit. A lesser party might be expected to have a more obstructionist approach to Brexit, but Labour proved that, unlike the majority in the Commons, it is willing to act like adults and try to reach out. The Conservatives’ ideological purity is now the main block to a sensible Brexit deal. Don’t believe me? Listen to Nick Boles talk about his own (former) party’s Brexit approach.

After yesterday’s infuriatingly narrow defeat, there are many who need to have a long hard look in the mirror and decide what they truly want. Indeed, no more so than the 20 Labour MPs who voted against their own party policy and against the whip on the customs union. They have irrevocably shamed the party, not to mention the country, and I don’t buy that those who represent leave seats were justified in doing so.

They were elected as Labour representatives on a softer Brexit stance; one which advances a Brexit deal based on the protection of workers’ and citizens’ rights as well as preserving this nation’s economy. Labour’s great success in 2017 was partly due to their moderate Brexit stance; a position that was accepted by remainers and leavers alike. Labour’s plan is not a betrayal of the leave vote, far from it. To vote against the plan, while inevitably driving us towards a No Deal is not only irresponsible but also sticking the proverbial two fingers up to the remainers who voted for them in good faith.

You will struggle to find any Labour MP whose votes did not mainly come from remain voters, but these voters have been forgotten by these 20 MPs. The logic of Labour’s Owen Smith, an ardent remainer, voting against such a deal was more ideological purity that the public are so sick of.

While Labour may have had some irresponsible rebels attempting to sully the name of the party, the blame does not lie solely with them. Indeed, other parties were keen not to be outdone in narrow mindedness and ideological purity.

The nationalist parties led the way. Plaid Cymru and the SNP both could have swung the vote. But they abstained. The Green’s sole MP, Caroline Lucas, voted against in another bizarre display of logic from an MP who supports a People’s Vote. It was a classic show of Brexit politicisation: ideology first, consequences second.

With all the power now back in the hands of the Conservatives, these MPs should ask themselves why they voted to increase the chances of a catastrophic No Deal? The scenario reminds me of a situation in The West Wing. A minimum wage amendment gets attached to a vote on the debt ceiling. For those unfamiliar with US politics, by not raising the debt ceiling, the result would most likely be a crash in the world economy.

The question remains: how long can MPs sustain playing this high-stakes game of chicken for. It is clear the Tories want a No Deal. An average of 24 Tory MPs voted for each option last night. It is up to the rest of the parties to govern responsibility and deliver a customs union.

It is a deal that should satisfy those who understand that there will be no unicorns. It delivers tariff free access to the single market, mitigating large economic damage while ending freedom of movement and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. The compromise for this is ceding control of our common external tariff to the EU, a price that may be worth paying to avoid No Deal. It does not mean we cannot make trade deals, Turkey is in a customs union with the EU but still have trade deals with 3rd party states, but does mean we are restrained by this external tariff. The price for maintaining trade with our largest trading partner and the largest tariff-free market in the world.

If MPs truly want us to leave the EU it is time for them to compromise and end this chaos. Deliver a deal that can get Parliamentary support. A customs union Brexit is the only deal that can get support without heading back to the polls. Without a general election or People’s Vote it must be a customs union Brexit.


Iwan Doherty

Editor in Chief and Founder of The People’s News. Democratic Socialist

Iwan Doherty has 58 posts and counting. See all posts by Iwan Doherty

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