While many in our free and fearless press pontificate on the approval of a third runway at London’s Heathrow airport - pandering to the capital’s well-heeled travellers and screwing the environment in one go - and frighten their readers with stories of rising crime numbers, not much attention has been given to Labour’s latest move on its EU stance, with some seasoned observers missing its significance.
As the BBC has reported, “Labour says it will try to force the government to seek a new deal with the EU on the single market when MPs vote on the Brexit bill next week. Jeremy Corbyn's team has tabled amendments demanding Theresa May seeks ‘full access’ to the single market. Anti-Brexit campaigners said his latest move did not go far enough”. Well, those anti-Brexit campaigners need to check out what Labour is proposing.
After Henry Zeffman of the Times told his followers “Labour about to announce major shift towards soft Brexit. Corbyn will table ‘internal market’ amendment to the withdrawal bill, customs bill and trade bill”, some still did not realise what The Red Team was doing.
But David Allen Green certainly did, and the key phrase was “internal market”: “‘Single market’ is not mentioned in EU treaties. The term used in the treaties is ‘internal market’. So this is four freedoms plus common regulatory policies, plus state aid, competition law, etc”. Therefore the softest of Brexit, if Brexit were even to occur. There was more.
“By using the actual legally correct term ‘internal market’ - defined in the treaties - Labour are (deliberately or not) making what they are content to accept clear”. Also note that the amendment names Jeremy Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner, and chief whip Nick Brown. This is not an accident, and it has Labour’s front bench behind it.
Green showed why the phrase “internal market” is so significant: “This is Article 26 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. This defines ‘internal market’ as requiring the four freedoms (including movement). Significant that Labour now using the very same phrase for its amendment”. So he had one clear conclusion.
“In essence - by using the legally correct and exact term ‘internal market’ rather than the (political, vague) term ‘single market’, Labour's amendment will align UK with careful firmness to the provisions of EU treaties and EU law generally. If not an accident, rather clever”. And Lewis Goodall of Sky News had one last interesting thought.
“Corbyn/Starmer have moved to the Wilson/Cameron position: We can get what we have at the moment but at a lower cost. That worked for Wilson though ultimately not for Cameron. But even for him it worked for a while, up to and including an election. That's all Labour needs for now”. I wouldn’t go with the Cameron comparison, if only because Young Dave was not calculating enough to stand alongside Wilson.
But Harold Wilson - thought of before he became leader as a dangerous lefty, but a great chairman of his cabinet and arch-pragmatist - is the past Labour leader Corbyn most closely resembles. Wilson calculated every step of his approach to Europe; Corbyn is now doing exactly the same thing. And his party has now effectively abandoned Brexit.