In an extraordinary speech to the Scottish Labour Party conference, Jeremy Corbyn has set out a position on the EU that is both ignorant and racist.
The offending passage reads as follows:
We cannot be held back inside or outside the EU from taking the steps we need to develop and invest in cutting edge industries and local business stop the tide of privatisation and outsourcing, or from preventing employers being able to import cheap agency labour to undercut existing pay and conditions in the name of free market orthodoxy.
It’s striking that Theresa May’s only clear priority when she laid out her new Brexit negotiating position last week seemed to be to tie the UK permanently to EU rules, which are used to drive privatisation and block support for British industry.
The European Union is set to make changes of its own in the coming period especially in relation to the rules governing Eurozone economies and the rights of temporary migrant workers.
It would therefore be wrong to sign up to a single market deal without agreement that our final relationship with the EU would be fully compatible with our radical plans to change Britain’s economy.
We are determined to negotiate a deal that gives us full tariff-free access to the single market.
But if we are genuinely going to have a jobs first Brexit that deal must be compatible with our plans to bring the railways and postal service into full public ownership transform energy markets and end the privatisation of our public services.
And we also need to be clear we could not accept a situation where we were subject to all EU rules and EU law, yet had no say in making those laws That would leave us as mere rule-takers and isn’t a tenable position for a democracy.
The narrative is obvious: the EU’s institutions would prevent Labour from enacting its economic programme and would allow immigration that would reduce the wages of British workers. Both statements are entirely untrue.
On the first point, far from preventing Member States’ governments from taking industries into private ownership and retaining them there, the EU Treaties do precisely the opposite: Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the Europan Union explicitly states that Member States have the right to decide over the balance between public and private ownership.
The rules on State Aids and procurement state, respectively, that Member States should not use subsidy to undermine the operation of the single market (and contain explicit provisions that allow Member States to be exempted in cases where to do so would promote other EU aims such as regional development, technical innovation, promotion of small and medium enterprises and environmental protection); and, in the case of procurement, govern the process for outsourcing in the event that a Member State decides to do so. It is undoubtedly true that the EU Treaties have free movement of people, goods, service and capital as their absolute and fundamental principle; but none of this – none whatsoever – prevents Labour from delivering its programme. There’s nothing new or controversial about any of this; and it difficult to see how an intellectually honest Labour leader, in the face of all the evidence, could continue pushing this line.
And, alongside this, Corbyn continues to push the utterly discredited line that immigration has reduced the wages of UK workers. Once again, the evidence is plentiful and conclusive – I’ve blogged about this many times before; and there is emerging evidence that any post-Brexit restriction of immigration will damage the economy – and hence the living standards of working people – at least as much as the damage to trade. The evidence has always shown that immigration is good for the economy and actually drives up wages; it is an engine of growth and prosperity.
But the Labour Party has always had a problem with this – witness, for example, those appalling anti-immigration mugs that the Party saw fit to distribute at the 2015 election. There has traditionally been a line on the Labour Right that we need an “honest” debate about immigration; and as I have argued before, that has usually meant a dishonest debate in which Labour patronises its supporters by privileging doorstep prejudice over hard economic evidence.
And Jeremy Corbyn seems intent on continuing that dishonourable tradition. And in doing so he continues to allow the Right – the Tories and the now largely-defunct UKIP – to set the agenda. It’s not a new politics, it’s the same discredited old politics based on ignorance and fear, and it panders to tabloid racism rather than challenging it. From a Labour leader, it’s not remotely good enough.
And in terms of the EU institutions, Corbyn needs to abandon the intellectual dishonesty and the Tory/UKIP framing. Because all he’s doing is enabling Theresa May’s rush towards a catastrophic hard Brexit.
What’s needed now is straight talking and honest politics. When will Corbyn start providing them?