Brexit Bulletin: Labour divided over Corbyn's unicorn-powered trade strategy

James Rothwell
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn - Getty Images Europe

Good afternoon.

I understand that a number of Labour MPs are tearing their hair out over Jeremy Corbyn and Sir Keir Starmer’s new unicorn-powered Brexit strategy.

Bulletin readers will recall that Sir Keir has split the Labour vote by proposing his own rival amendment to one tabled by pro soft Brexit MPs (which would push Britain into a Norway-style model, also known as EEA membership).

Sir Keir’s amendment instead calls for leaving the single market but keeping full access, with no “new impediments” to trade - but does not elaborate on how to achieve that.

It also makes no mention whatsoever of free movement (FoM), the key sticking point in any debate on the single market, as we all know. In other words, it leads the Brexit debate nowhere.

“They’re kicking the can down the road, but we’re running out of road,” one frustrated Labour source said to me earlier this week.

Mr Corbyn doesn’t want to make any compromises on single market membership as he considers it to be a capitalist aberration, I’m told.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the U.K.'s opposition Labour Party, right, speaks to journalists as he stands beside Keir Starmer Credit:  Dario Pignatelli

Meanwhile, Sir Keir doesn’t want to make any compromises on sovereignty as he considers EEA members such as Norway to be weak-kneed “ruletakers,” with no say in how EU law is shaped.

Both firmly believe that Labour cannot risk losing voters by proposing anything that looks remotely like free movement, as that could alienate many supporters out in the heartlands.

What to do? Well, a paper written by Labour supporters of soft Brexit has fallen into my hands, and it strives to - in their view - set the record straight on the FoM question.

The paper suggests that EEA member states can invoke Article 112 of the EEA agreement to curb free movement, albeit only in extreme circumstances (where it can basically be argued that immigration is destroying a country).

“Of the 17 million who voted Leave, it’s clear many millions were driven to do so by legitimate concerns about the potentially limitless nature of FoM," it says.

It continues: “An EEA-based Brexit would deliver an approach to FoM that would deliver significantly greater controls over our borders and the labour market.”

This might seem rather woolly to some readers, as it risks opening the door to a so-called “Brexit in name only (BRINO)” scenario - where we leave but nothing changes.

But it does at least go one step further than Mr Corbyn’s impossible desire to leave the single market without losing one iota of access to it.

More Brexit space woes

Some bad news: the EU has spurned the UK’s request to enjoy full participation in the bloc’s Galileo satellite navigation system after Brexit.

In a series of slides published today, the EU said member states agreed that Britain could only have third country status within the programme, meaning the scope for co-operation is severely limited.

Whitehall officials will feel badly stung by this. In December, the UK was assured that it could participate in EU programmes during the current budget cycle. It was also assured that UK participants and projects would be “unaffected by the UK’s withdrawal from the Union for the entire lifetime of such projects”.

As a result, the UK did not ask to have the £1bn it invested in the £8bn Galileo project refunded.

It now appears Britain will be handing over one eighth of the cost of the space project but having extremely limited access to it.

This just in: Sam Gyimah, science minister, has threatened to pull out of Galileo altogether in response to the EU's slides.

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