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13 January 2018

Wes Streeting MP: The single biggest barrier to a soft Brexit? It’s my party

The country is looking for leadership. It’s time the Labour Party provided it.

By wes Streeting

Whether Nigel Farage’s call for a second European Union referendum was simply attention seeking or a sign that the Brexiteers want to seal our fate before too many voters wake up to the litany of false promises they peddled during the referendum campaign, we know what he wants. Aided by the Tory right he is determined to drag our country towards the hardest of hard Brexits: not just out of the EU, but out of the European single market that has provided jobs, trade and prosperity for our country.

But on the UK’s future relationship with the European Union – the single biggest issue facing our country in a generation – we enter 2018 in the terrible position where it is the Labour Party that currently stands as the single biggest barrier to the UK’s membership of the single market. The burden of responsibility lies with us, because if the Labour Party announced tomorrow that we would keep Britain in the single market it would be a game-changing moment in British politics. With Labour’s support, the policy would command a majority in the House of Commons and a majority in the country.

Brexit hasn’t been an easy issue for our party since the referendum. We couldn’t wish for anyone better than Keir Starmer to forensically pick apart that idle chancer David Davis – and even if we had the most pro-European of Labour leaders they would be confronting the same political calculations facing Jeremy Corbyn.

Last year we promised a ‘jobs first Brexit’, but the fudge that got us through the general election get us through 2018. If we were sticking to our convictions as a Party about what we believe to be in the best interests of our country, we wouldn’t be man-marking the Tories, keeping one step from their position; we’d be making the running and setting the agenda. We wouldn’t be ruling out membership of the single market, we’d be telling voters that there is no such thing as a ‘jobs first Brexit’ without it.

It is vital that we do. 3 million British jobs are linked to the single market. The EU is our single biggest trading partner and as a European collective we have 65 trade agreements with countries across the world. By working together in the single market, we’ve improved workers’ rights, environmental standards and consumer protections.

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It helps create jobs for Unite workers at Nissan in Sunderland, it allows us to recruit doctors and nurses from across Europe to help staff our NHS, and it creates wealth that generates the tax receipts that fund our public services.

If we want to end austerity, if we want to protect jobs and livelihoods and if we want to hold multinational corporations to account, then we need to stay in the single market.

Theresa May sought a mandate for a Hard Brexit and she didn’t get one. Labour has the power to kill it dead.

The country is looking for leadership. It’s time the Labour Party provided it. So let’s answer the call of a majority of Labour members, a majority of Labour voters and a majority of the British people by using our parliamentary muscle to keep Britain in the single market. Labour’s leadership must surely recognise that there is no socialism in going it alone.