Tendance Coatesy

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Labour Backs Free Movement and Single Market membership, a Step Forward for Internationalists.

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Labour to “abide by EU free movement rules”.

Labour makes dramatic Brexit shift and backs single market membership

Reports the Obsever.

Party opens clear divide with Tories, with support for free movement and paying into EU budgets for up to four years.

Labour is to announce a dramatic policy shift by backing continued membership of the EU single market beyond March 2019, when Britain leaves the EU, establishing a clear dividing line with the Tories on Brexit for the first time.

In a move that positions it decisively as the party of “soft Brexit”, Labour will support full participation in the single market and customs union during a lengthy “transitional period” that it believes could last between two and four years after the day of departure, it is to announce on Sunday.

This will mean that under a Labour government the UK would continue to abide by the EU’s free movement rules, accept the jurisdiction of the European court of justice on trade and economic issues, and pay into the EU budget for a period of years after Brexit, in the hope of lessening the shock of leaving to the UK economy. In a further move that will delight many pro-EU Labour backers, Jeremy Corbyn’s party will also leave open the option of the UK remaining a member of the customs union and single market for good, beyond the end of the transitional period.

Permanent long-term membership would only be considered if a Labour government could by then have persuaded the rest of the EU to agree to a special deal on immigration and changes to freedom of movement rules.

The announcement, revealed in the Observer by the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, means voters will have a clear choice between the two main parties on the UK’s future relations with the EU after a year in which Labour’s approach has been criticised for lacking definition and appeared at times hard to distinguish from that of the Tories.

(rest of article via above link).

The Financial Times comments,

Change of tack by opposition party puts UK government’s strategy under severe pressure

Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has come under fierce pressure after Labour announced it would change tack and campaign to keep Britain in the EU single market, at least during a transition period. After months of confusion over its Brexit policy, Labour now wants to in effect maintain the status quo in Britain’s relations with Europe for a transition period after the country leaves in March 2019. That would mean payments into the EU budget, free movement of people and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice would continue for a fixed period, possibly up to 2022, setting up a clear dividing line with Mrs May. The Labour policy will be welcomed by business and reflects the Treasury’s view that British companies should face only “one transition”, when Britain moves from an interim regime to a final, settled state based on a proposed free trade agreement.

 also comments,

Can Labour’s change of course over Brexit change Britain’s fate?

This change in position could not have happened without the agreement of Jeremy Corbyn, and that could not be taken for granted at the start of the debate between senior members of the shadow cabinet. Earlier this year, the Labour leader walked through the same Aye lobby as Theresa May for the vote to trigger Article 50 and he whipped Labour MPs to join him there. It is less than two months since he fired three frontbenchers when they supported an amendment to the Queen’s Speech calling for Britain to stay within the customs union and the single market.

The Labour leader, a career-long Eurosceptic, has not agreed to recalibrate the party’s position on Brexit because he has fundamentally changed his mind about the EU. But Mr Corbyn is more of a politician than his detractors or his admirers often acknowledge. On some things, at least, he can do pragmatism and triangulation as well as any of the other grubby compromisers in the rough old trade. His inner circle and his allies in the shadow cabinet include both Eurosceptics and Europhiles. He has surely noticed – everyone else certainly has – the dislocation between his views about the EU and those of the crowd who adored him at Glastonbury. The younger voters who helped him to upset election expectations in June are overwhelmingly opposed to Brexit, as are many of his most passionate devotees within the party. A poll for Labour List, conducted before the announcement of this shift, found a substantial majority of party members thought Labour had not adopted a Brexit policy that was sufficiently different to that of the Tories.

This is a major victory for progressive internationalists in the Labour Party.

There remain forces within Labour who will resist this move.

Lexiters, sovereigntists, advocates of a “closed” shop for migration, who count themselves as Jeremy Corbyn’s new best friends, will fight this turn.

It is now above all up to supporters of Free Movement to advance our case.

As Michael Chesson explained a few days ago, in the Clarion,

The cause of free movement belongs to the left, not the right

By Michael Chessum

There is a section of the British left – some of it indigenous to the old Labour left tradition, some of it linked to the old Communist Party – that actively supports border controls, and has always viewed free movement as a means of undermining the power of organised labour. In the Labour establishment, support for border controls has been a regular fixture – whether as a means of appeasing “legitimate concerns” (and racism) about immigration since the 19th century, or as a electorally opportunist response to the Brexit vote.

These sections of the left do not want to have an argument about their position, and for good reason. The idea that we should take away people’s rights on the basis of their nationality (which is what ending free movement means) only makes sense if you are, on some level, internalising or pandering to prejudice and nationalism. Otherwise, we ought to “build a big beautiful wall” separating deprived northern towns from the south east of England, to stop all the inhabitants of Blackpool from coming down here, taking our jobs, flooding our labour market and eating up the housing stock.

The vast majority of progressives and leftwingers would not want to make such a case. That is why, in Labour’s manifesto, the end of free movement was presented as an immovable fait accompli. One week Labour will say that free movement must end because we are leaving the single market; the next it will say that we must leave the single market in order to end free movement.  It’s also why the main argument against free movement in Momentum branches and on the left will be “ssshh, you’ll damage the leadership”, or even “this is a plot by the right to damage Jeremy.”

Yet the fight inside Labour for free movement and migrants’ rights has always been led by the left, not the right. Under Blair, Labour was responsible for introducing some of the harshest asylum laws in Europe, many of them aimed at driving refugees into destitution. It worked with the tabloid press to feed a narrative of immigrant benefit scroungers and government clampdowns.  Historically speaking, the leadership of the trade union movement has often been the most anti-migrant part of it. The immigration controls mug was not designed by CLPD.

And the logic of the arguments for free movement are overwhelmingly radical relative to Labour’s historical centre. We call for all workers to have the same rights, regardless of where they were born – because it is through collective struggle that we improve our lives. We call for massive public investment, common ownership, greatly increased minimum wages and the abolition of anti-union laws. Free movement is part of “our” globalisation – not a step backwards from the social democracy of the Twentieth Century, but a radicalisation of it.

This is not to say that there will not be many on the right of the party who come round to the idea of free movement in the coming period, and not all of them for honest reasons. Some on the right genuinely believe in a similar principled case to that which I would articulate. Some view free movement as an important argument to win for the purposes of remaining in the Single Market and protecting Britain’s business interests. And yes, some will see an opportunity to divide the left and expose the awkward fudges made by the leadership in recent months.

The fact that the argument will be difficult cannot deter us from having it. The question of whether or not Labour should have whipped for Article 50 in March was controversial on the left, as it was across the party, but it was fundamentally a tactical question. Even the bigger debate over EU membership was not a matter of raw principle, in so far as it was possible to offer respectable (if deluded) left wing arguments on both sides.  But ending free movement – dividing workers by nationality, taking away people’s rights, implicitly endorsing of the idea that immigrants undermine living standards – is a matter of deep principle on which the left cannot afford compromise.

Despite appearances, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about the prospect of Labour taking a pro-free movement line. Over the past two weeks, about 2,500 Labour members and supporters have joined the Labour Campaign for Free Movement. A number of unions – including some big ones – have come out in favour. And we should not forget that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are friendly to the principle, and have the radical social and economic programme that can make free movement palatable and electable.

You can sign up to it here.

See also from the Economist: The movement for free movement. An alliance of Blairites and Bolsheviks criticises Labour policy

Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to end free movement faces opposition from both left and right.

And, Labour List.  Labour Campaign For The Single Market Launched By McGovern And Alexander

Written by Andrew Coates

August 27, 2017 at 11:21 am

11 Responses

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  1. If you’re with Corbyn, you need to be with Galloway.


    August 27, 2017 at 9:09 pm

  2. Er, no: Galloway is a racist and anti-Semite who supports Brexit.

    Jim Denham

    August 27, 2017 at 9:17 pm

  3. There should be no walls or barriers to broach in order to enter the UK; anyone who wants to come here should be made welcome – scrapping passport controls and border guards would be a good start.

    The Global Citizens

    August 28, 2017 at 3:20 am

  4. I would like to believe that Global Citizens is writing tongue in cheek but I rather think they are serious. Given the state of just Africa if what is proposed were to happen the entire population of that continent would be in the UK as fast as they could get here. We would collapse as a society.

    Dave Roberts

    August 28, 2017 at 7:52 am

  5. Piffle! The UK could quite easily accommodate the population of the entire continent of Africa, give and take a few allowances here and there. If you have ever ventured out from the big cities you will soon come to realise that only 3% of UK land is built-on, yes, just 3%, the other 97% is just lying empty. And look at the Highlands of Scotland – nobody lives up there!


    August 28, 2017 at 12:36 pm

  6. How can passports controls and border guards be compatible with free movement? Passport controls and border guards are an anachronism and belong in the 18th century. Besides, having to wait in a queue to show your passport to some obnoxious border guard is a right royal pain in the backside. Scrap them now and get rid of them obnoxious border guards while you are at it.

    Air Miles

    August 28, 2017 at 12:46 pm

  7. Gerri. That was definitely tongue in cheek. Wasn’t it?

    Dave Roberts

    August 29, 2017 at 5:33 am

  8. “Free movement” in the context of the EU negotiations means free movement for the mainly white, mainly Christian and in global terms relatively wealthy citizens of other EU countries. It certainly does not mean free movement for people from outside Europe, who tend to have the wrong sort of religion, skin tone and level of wealth and income. There is a case to argue over free movement within the EU, but its left-wing advocates cannot resist using moral-high-ground arguments about freedom and internationalism which, logically, apply equally well to non-EU people. Michael Chessum’s article is a textbook example of this.


    August 29, 2017 at 10:53 am

    • I take it that because British people have rights at all it’s because they are mainly white, and we should be ashamed of them.

      Are you arguing that half a loaf is not a loaf at all?

      That any reform short of – what you do not specify – is drowned out in the sanglots de l’homme blanc?

      Have you Francis come to adopt the kind of politics criticised here?

      Intellectual imperialism: On the export of peculiarly American notions of race, culture, and class.


      Andrew Coates

      August 29, 2017 at 12:43 pm

  9. No, Andrew, I am simply calling for intellectual honesty. If people want to advocate reciprocal free movement for all EU and UK citizens post-Brexit, then fine, I have no problem with that. But the arguments for that are not the same as the arguments on principle against all immigration controls. Free movement within Europe is just a different type of immigration control – with a larger pool of insiders, to be sure, but no more welcoming to the outsider. So long as people are honest with themselves about what they are actually advocating, it’s fine with me. Free movement within (most of) Europe is just that – a discriminatory freedom which some can enjoy and others cannot. The case for it needs to be made candidly, preferably with some explanation of why non-Europeans are not appropriate beneficiaries. And similarly, if you are advocating free movement for Europeans as a kind of wedge to get rid of all immigration controls (the half loaf?) why not be open about it?


    August 29, 2017 at 1:17 pm

  10. I am advocating the European Union as a key area of struggle for a social other’ Europe.

    The issue of free movement of labour is one that pits those who wish to defend this goal against those who wish to create a fortress UK, a sovereigntist left that sees the British Parliament as the key area of political struggle.

    Or, as the Morning Star put it on Monday, ” the principled position of respecting popular sovereignty and leaving the EU (single market and ECJ jurisdiction and all)…”


    As such I personally defend the existing freedom of movement system, because it is linked in the ‘4 Freedoms’. These are themselves objects of political debate and conflict, as one seeks to establish a “more social Europe”, as this extract from Wikipedia indicates.

    “Since its foundation, the Treaties sought to enable people to pursue their life goals in any country through free movement.[104] Reflecting the economic nature of the project, the European Community originally focused upon free movement of workers: as a “factor of production”.[105] However, from the 1970s, this focus shifted towards developing a more “social” Europe.[106] Free movement was increasingly based on “citizenship”, so that people had rights to empower them to become economically and socially active, rather than economic activity being a precondition for rights. This means the basic “worker” rights in TFEU article 45 function as a specific expression of the general rights of citizens in TFEU articles 18 to 21. According to the Court of Justice, a “worker” is anybody who is economically active, which includes everyone in an employment relationship, “under the direction of another person” for “remuneration”.[107] A job, however, need not be paid in money for someone to be protected as a worker.


    Since this is not a complete policy debate I merely indicate that I would see a social Europe in terms laid out by the various European left parties here: 5th CONGRESS OF THE PARTY OF THE EUROPEAN LEFT

    BERLIN, 16-18 DECEMBER 2016 http://www.european-left.org/5th-congress-berlin-2016

    And by John Palmer who spoke at the Chartist AGM this year,

    Dear Jeremy Corbyn. Your meeting in Brussels is a chance to recast Brexit
    John Palmer (July 2017)

    It is now widely accepted that if the UK leaves the EU in spring 2019, to survive economically it will need not just a “transition period” but (in the view of much of British industry) a transition that is significantly longer than the very brief “implementation period” talked of by Tory ministers.


    I am confident that you will also be told that, during any transitional period (whether three, five or seven, or more years), EU laws and regulations and the judicial role of the European court of justice will continue to apply fully in the UK. Translating that into UK political language, the country will – to all appearances – continue to be a member of the EU until sometime between 2022 and 2026 or possibly even later.

    Of course appearances will not disguise one major difference in the UK’s status in the EU. It will not have any voice or any vote within the decision-making EU institutions (commission, council of ministers, European parliament). It will have to accept new EU laws and regulations without being able to shape them.

    Many who share your radical, reforming values and goals find this deeply unsatisfactory. The economic, social, environmental and human rights goals you have rightly set out for the government will, critically, depend on sympathetic parallel action being taken by Britain’s closest economic partners and democratic allies.

    As the May government suffers what may prove to be its protracted death agonies, the Labour party in parliament faces some tricky tactical and strategic choices. Some of your PLP colleagues seem not to be above playing ambition-driven, internal factional games with these difficult choices.

    Keir Starmer, your frontbench Brexit spokesman, has rightly said he will hold David Davis to his promise that he will get a free trade deal with the EU that would provide “exactly the same benefits the UK currently has from the single market”. So if reality does not meet that objective, you will be fully justified in mobilising for a parliamentary majority to reject the eventual “deal”.

    Before the deal has to be approved – no later than March 2019 – events may have made a new general election unavoidable. In which case you would be fully entitled to campaign on a platform making clear that if the final terms of Brexit do worsen Britain’s economic difficulties, and thus impede your government’s programme, then you would withdraw from the article 50 process. The time limit for withdrawal expires only in March 2019.

    This would give time for your government to enter new negotiations with the EU on a wide-ranging programme of economic, employment, social and democratic reforms across the EU. It would be open to the government to put any new EU reform treaty which results to a new UK referendum.

    The balance of political forces in the European Union is moving against the populist right. New progressive currents are arising in a variety of forms in different EU countries and the establishment centre parties are weakening and fragmenting.

    If there is no election before David Davis returns from the Brexit negotiations, you will still be well-placed to mobilise a parliamentary majority for rejection and put the government out of its misery. You would then be able to fight a general election with a far-reaching programme of UK and European Union reform with allies across Europe that the Tories will never have. I believe people across this country who are desperate for change would respond to the call.

    With best wishes,

    John Palmer


    Andrew Coates

    August 29, 2017 at 5:24 pm

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