What is clear is that some Brexiteers need to go through a reality check. The rhetoric being used in policy discussions and social media exchanges has to change from that of idealistic "aspiration" to that of "compromise and negotiation". I feel that Labour's tests do help to set out what such rhetoric is expected to entail. Brexiteers can no longer sneer at such a reasonable framework or use the "will of the people" tagline to silence debate and they certainly can't use those arguments in the Brussels negotiating rooms anyways!
Starmer mentions 5 core British values that are "cherished" by the Labour Party which will never be abandoned in an attempt to pass through a Tory Brexiteer dominated deal:
- Internationalism: looking outwards not inwards
- Co-operation and solidarity
- Protecting the fundamentals: human rights, workplace rights, environmental protections and the rule of law
- Fostering an economy and broader society based on the principles of faireness, equality and social justice
- Sharing prosperity, power and opportunity across the regions and nations of the UK.
What are the 6 tests that a Brexit deal would have to get through before Labour allows it to pass through Parliament?
- Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
A Labour Government, if they do win a General Election, should promise to try and keep research funding streams open for collaborative projects to help continue to foster an innovative culture in our Universities. Talented professionals from the EU must be allowed to come and work in the UK with access to PhD placements and fellowships. Programmes such as the Erasmus exchange scheme for University studies should also be maintained if possible.
I agree with Mr Starmer that this test had to be stated first to make it clear to Brexiteers that Remainers, including those in Labour, refuse to crash out of the EU without there being an appropriate meaningful deal in place that allows for collaborative projects to continue. As a minimum, May has to agree to transitional arrangements from the 29th March 2019 (when Article 50 expires) so that voters have a sense of greater certainty over the framework of the deal before a treaty is signed which sets out future relations.
- Does it deliver "the exact same benefits" as we currently have as members of the Single Market (SM) and Customs Union?
- Continued tariff-free trade for UK businesses with the EU
- NO additional bureaucratic burdens
- Continued competitiveness for goods and services
- No erosion of current workplace protections - i.e. no getting rid of the Working Time Directive.
- Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?
Labour wants to ensure that May instructs Davis to reach a deal on the right to remain for EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU pretty much immediately. They should not be treated as "bargaining chips" in the agreement....i.e. the UK should not refuse to guarantee rights for EU nationals in the UK just because the EU plays hardball over tariff agreements. That's pretty much common sense and in line with Lib Dem, Green, Plaid Cymru and SNP demands.
- Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?
It's not just our employment rights and consumer protections that are under threat. Brexiteers such as Michael Gove have salivated over the prospect of eroding environmental protections and health and safety regulations. Gove recently moaned about the EU Habitats Directive that helps to safeguard over 1000 endangered animal and plant species as well as over 200 habitat types across the EU (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-eu-regulations-michael-gove-environment-drugs-a7649041.html). The EUHD, alongside the Birds Directive form the cornerstone of EU conservation policy. Gove says that the Directive stalls housing development schemes but he's not prepared to admit that there is a benefit to allocating "a suitable alternative space" to offset the impact of potentially destroying protected habitats such as heathland. So it seems it's more a case of "can't be arsed to be green Tory" than a true bugbear. Gove's preference for scrapping the Clinical Trials Directive altogether also worries me, especially in light of the failed drugs trial in the US which left 3 women blind with detached retinas and severe bleeding. The CTD allows for trials to still be conducted safely and securely, whilst streamlining bureaucracy and allowing trials to be "co-sponsored" so that NHS Trusts can work closely with academic organisations. Strange therefore that Gove wouldn't support the CTD, especially when organisations such as Cancer Research UK recognise that the "risk based, proportionate approach promises to significantly cut red tape", meaning that they can "set up and run more clinical trials, helping us to beat cancer sooner." (see http://www.nhsconfed.org/regions-and-eu/nhs-european-office/influencing-eu-policy/clinical-trials).
At the moment the future of EU-UK drugs research does seem up in the air; two institutions were meant to relocate to the UK (the European Medicines Agency and the pharmaceutical division of the EU Unified Patent Court) but it remains to be seen whether that will happen before the Brexit process has been concluded.
The Great Repeal Bill that is being presented to Parliament on Thursday will involve complex negotiation. Starmer quotes evidence from the House of Commons Library that shows that DEFRA will have 80% of its legislation affected by Brexit. I am glad to hear that Labour will "strongly oppose" any "sunset clauses" which allow EU-derived rights to "lapse" after 5 years. All workplace rights, consumer rights and environmental protections must remain in place unaltered and Labour must be prepared to work cross-party, including with Tory backbench rebels to ensure this happens. Corbyn has already stated that even technical changes to EU law must go through Parliament so I expect there to be intensive debate over the next few months in the House of Commons over May's powers to amend EU legislation.
- Does it ensure there is no diminution in Britain's national security or ability to tackle cross- border crime?
effectively whilst we have been members of the EU and there is no reasonably sufficient justification for changing those arrangements that has been submitted by the Brexiteer-led Government.
- Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?
In Northern Ireland, it's predominately about preventing the need for routine border-controls and preventing tariffs on goods import and export wise. Families and workers want to be able to cross the NI and Irish border without fear of paying taxes to do so. Labour must state that the NI-Irish border should be seamless and non-restrictive.
In Scotland, it's about retaining the benefits of Single Market access, paired with a more liberal immigration policy. The UK is more divided than it has ever been and PM May has done very little in my opinion to help heal those fractures. The fact that Nicola Sturgeon is so concerned about the possibility of Scotland leaving the EU with no deal as part of the UK that it has prompted her and the SNP to call for a 2nd Independence Referendum should flag up concerns for us all.
Labour remains committed to the principle of political Union but believe that devolution needs to be speeded up, not just within a national framework but a regional one too. There is no real compelling case for further centralisation of power at Whitehall, so Labour must come up with a detailed devolution strategy to appeal to voters who want to see tax raising and spending powers given to local and regional councils.
Labour has now produced a comprehensive and clear framework for the party to use to scrutinise the terms of the Brexit deal. Labour candidates at a council level can now talk about the framework to their constituents to reassure them that Labour will not let the Conservatives get their deal through entirely unopposed. I'm pleased that the test has included ensuring that EU nationals right to remain in the UK is protected fully, and hope this will mean their ability to access in work benefits and the employment rights will remain the same for them as UK nationals, especially if they have been in the UK for more than 5 years. It's also good to see that Labour are prepared to defend environmental protections and hope that they will work with Tory rebel backbenchers, Green MP Caroline Lucas, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the SNP to help defeat the Government on any attempt to scale back those protections, including the EU Habitats Directive.
I do think Labour needs to be even clearer on specific issues such as whether they would reinstate the EAW if the Tory Government tried to get rid of it or whether the Erasmus scheme would be protected. As the Yorkshire and Humber Labour MEP Richard Corbett has mentioned in his excellent recent blog on "Brexit and Higher Education", the UK will need "some kind of associate status to access framework programme 9" which will be the main EU funding stream for research after Horizon 2020 ends. Would Corbyn's Labour commit to joining the framework programme 9 if they were elected in 2020? Such fleshing out needs to be done whilst the Brexit deal is being negotiated.
Some Remainers will argue that Labour's speech is too little, too late. The decision made by Corbyn to 3 line whip through the Brexit Bill without amendments has not gone down well and there is some suspicion as to whether Corbyn will stick firmly to the 6 tests laid out by Starmer. What would happen if only 1 or 2 of the tests were not met? Would Labour strike down the deal straight away or ask for it to amended or pass it through regardless? What happens if PM May doesn't present a comprehensive deal to Parliament? Such eventualities need to be planned for, considering that Labour wouldn't have enough votes to defeat the Government without Tory backbench rebels joining them. Perhaps Labour aren't going far enough. Should Labour do as the Lib Dems have done and promise a 2nd EU Referendum within 2 years on the terms of the deal (or on leaving the EU without a deal)? I'm still sympathetic towards such a referendum proposal in place of a 2nd Independence Referendum for Scotland. The fact is that in all reality, the Scottish Government will vote for IndyRef2 to take place at some time within the next 2 years. Even if PM May asks for it to be postponed till after April 2019, the Brexit deal may not be one that Scottish voters can accept (i.e. a Hard Brexit) so when Scotland does hold its IndyRef2, voters may still vote to leave the UK and PM May and Corbyn will have to respect the result, even if the margin of victory is under 5%. Corbyn is willing to allow the people of Scotland a 2nd referendum if they wish it to happen. It's very democratic of him to say this but it puts him at odds with many Labour MPs as well as Labour and Lib Dem Unionist Remainers and Leavers.
Labour's approach to Brexit should be framed within its vision for the future of the UK. That's why it was important for Starmer to talk about what Brexit will not achieve for UK voters. I stand by Starmer's suggestion that Brexiteers did sell voters false hope, especially in relation to extra money for our NHS. The £350m was a deliberate lie used to entice voters at the ballot box, one that I will never forgive leading Brexiteer campaigners for. Whilst the Brexit process is being negotiated in Brussels, Labour must hold the Government to account on decisions they are taking at home. This includes questioning their education vanity project funding promises when state comprehensive schools face real term cuts in per pupil funding and questioning their decision not to increase social care funding to £2bn a year as the Kings Fund have indicated is needed as a minimum. Brexit certainly won't restore public trust in politics; there were plenty of young people who were so turned off by the vicious nature of the EU Referendum debate that they may never vote again. That's sad news for our democracy where youth representation should be increasing, not reducing. I look forward to seeing more of Labour's policy platforms that will help to address accountability and transparency issues to help build public confidence. I want to see Labour openly declare that they will reduce the voting age to 16 (which they've already promised to do) and to announce new innovative policies that will help our NHS and Social Care services to expand and flourish. The Brexit process itself cannot be allowed to dominate our national political scene. It cannot be used as a smokescreen or an excuse to allow the Tories to pass through unpopular policies unopposed. This Brexit policy I hope signals a shift in communication approach by Labour to one that is clear, bold and unwavering. It'd be sad to be proved wrong when the Brexit deal reaches Parliament only to be allowed through unopposed.