Labour is failing its members by refusing to back the retention of the single market. The leadership claims this is because it cannot support free movement of people, seen as an essential requirement in the negotiations. But UK MEPs and others in Belgium say that the free movement of EU nationals there is dependent on having an ID card and showing it, and demonstrating to the authorities that you have enough income to live on. You will be expelled from Belgium if you fail the test. All this is within the existing EU legislation – which could be implemented here if we introduced ID cards.
Instead, the Tories and some Labour leaders intentionally mix up the rules for third-country and EU nationals. We need the latter to keep the economy going and we should welcome them – with ID cards. Then we can fight to retain the single market with all the benefits it brings. That’s why I and 32 other Labour peers supported the all-party amendment in the committee stage of the Brexit bill last week to commit to retaining access to the single market in the article 50 notice, against our leadership. Let us hope that our leaders see sense before the report stage on Tuesday.
Labour, House of Lords
• Martin Kettle writes (Opinion, 3 March): “There is no reason why continued support for the single market need be inconsistent with acceptance of the referendum vote to leave. Many options exist for the UK to preserve the economic benefits.” But isn’t this wishful thinking, a version of Boris Johnson’s policy on cake? Theresa May, more convincingly, starts from the position that the referendum result requires “taking back control” of immigration, and then aims to negotiate “the best possible deal” on access to the single market. So the question is: what is “possible”? It has to be agreed by EU governments whose citizens face new restrictions on moving to the UK, and who have to deal with their own anti-EU parties, so (whatever the balance of economic advantage) politics requires them to ensure that the UK can only be allowed a deal which is worse than its present situation. Realistic Labour people like Keir Starmer know that the notional “options to preserve the economic benefits” are unconvincing, so the opposition can only point out the penalties of “hard Brexit” and keep open the possibility of withdrawing the article 50 application at the end of the two years.
• The week before last, Labour briefed the Guardian and other newspapers that it was leading the parliamentary campaign against a hard Brexit. Last Monday evening, however, Labour peers were whipped to vote with the government against an amendment (in the name of the Labour peer Peter Hain, among others) to require negotiations to aim at retaining membership of the single market.
As Labour front-bench peers trooped past the Liberal Democrat benches on their way into the government lobby, one remarked defensivel: “This is no worse than the compromises you had to make under the coalition.” I well recall the painful compromises Lib Dems had to make; but we did gain Conservative concessions in return. What compromises is Labour now forced to make, in opposition, and to whom is it offering concessions – Ukip, for instance, or Ukip voters whom it hopes to attract back by moving towards Ukip policies?
The Guardian report (28 February) that BMW is considering transferring production of some new models from the UK to Germany if and when Britain leaves the single market shows, among other examples, what is at stake: lost jobs, lost tax revenues, an economic downturn, from which the poorer groups within our society will suffer most. Labour should not compromise in promoting the economic interests of Britain’s working communities; it should instead contest the Ukip argument that shutting down immigration will solve their problems.
Liberal Democrats, House of Lords
• Leaving aside the constitutional implications of the Lords defying the Commons over the issue of the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, should we not be praising the second chamber for at least making the government think again about the morality of using people who are making an invaluable economic, social and cultural contribution to our society as negotiating pawns?
Your report highlighted Theresa May’s intention to overturn the vote, revealing the PM’s continued reluctance to reassure existing EU residents of the UK about their future, with all the attendant uncertainty and anxiety. Does the government not realise how counter-productive such a strategy is, not just economically but also for the image this creates of Britain overseas? Granting residency rights is something almost certain to happen. By unilaterally extending the hand of friendship and welcome now, we will not only be seen to be doing the right thing but building a store of goodwill for the delicate negotiations to come.
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