Quick question: What do a majority of the public and a majority of MPs from across the House of Commons have in common when it comes to Brexit? The answer: a firm belief that we can leave the EU but stay in the single market. So why is it that the current position of both the Labour and Conservative party leaderships is to wrench us out of it, regardless of the consequences?
We know that Theresa May has been backed into a corner by the right wing of her party. This weekend, Jacob Rees Mogg led the charge to pull Britain out of the single market in March 2019, with 100 Conservative MPs backing his call for the hardest of Hard Brexits – a number impressive enough for a splash in a Sunday newspaper, but not nearly enough to command a majority of Conservative MPs, let alone a majority in the House of Commons.
A new poll of MPs found a majority are on the same page: 56 per cent of MPs across all parties feel that remaining in the single market is compatible with the result of the Brexit vote. For Labour MPs, 90 per cent feel this way. It’s pretty easy to see why: leaving in the EU clearly does not require leaving the single market. Just look at the examples of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein: all three are in the single market, but none of them are EU members.
The leadership of my party is now out of step with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of its supporters, the overwhelming majority of its own MPs, as well as the majority of MPs across the House of Commons as a whole.
Some have argued that Labour wouldn’t be able to fulfil the economic promises made in the 2017 manifesto outside of the single market: this is nonsense. Multiple studies have shown that every single one of the economic policies we put forward as a party in the general election, many of which proved extremely popular, would be perfectly possible within the rules of the single market. Even shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has reportedly agreed with this.
It’s time to wake up to the fact that being part of the single market is the best insurance policy we could have against a race to the bottom on wages, rights and protections that threaten British workers and that there is no “jobs first Brexit” without it.
Until the position of the leadership changes, we will be letting down vast swathes of the public who voted for Labour at least partly because they expected us to protect our national interest by ensuring a soft Brexit. As this latest poll of MPs confirms, the Labour party could, at an instant, command a majority of votes in parliament on the question of post-Brexit single market membership. We could be the ones framing this debate, leading from the front and acting in the national interest and advancing our progressive political agenda. Instead, through our inaction, we are meekly enabling the utterly destructive vision of Brexit being imposed on the country by the most extreme anti-European wing of the Conservative Party.
There’s still time for the Labour leadership to do the right thing, but that time is starting to run short and so is patience.
Wes Streeting is Labour MP for Ilford North and a supporter of Open Britain.