With Sunday politics shows resuming today after the Christmas and New Year break, first out of the blocks was Sophy Ridge on Sky News, one of whose guests was Labour’s international trade man Barry Gardiner. The discussion inevitably came round to what Labour would do in negotiation with the EU. His answers didn’t go down well.
Here’s what he said. “We would have a trade policy in which we and the European Union together would be able to determine the trade agreements that we then concluded … That is what our proposal is, that we would have a customs union … where each individual sovereign nation is able to determine whether a trade agreement that they conclude jointly with other countries should go ahead”. Ms Ridge was sceptical.
“The EU is not going to give the UK a say in negotiating its own trade deals, though, is it?” she asked him. Gardiner was not put off. “The EU would be in a position … to have a situation where the EU and the UK jointly determine whether a trade agreement with another country is beneficial.” The why was, though, easier to explain.
“We cannot be in a position … we cannot be simply rule takers in this situation, where, in a customs union, the EU could determine that we were forced into a trade agreement - potentially with [the USA] - which was detrimental to our interests, though perhaps beneficial to the rest of the EU … We can’t be forced into that position, and that’s why we’ve always said that a customs union that we would negotiate would be one in which we have a say. We cannot be forced into that position”.
This has not gone down well with some of those commentators who might not be pro-Labour, but certainly aren’t pro-Tory. Campaigner Femi responded “Barry Gardiner says a Labour Brexit would mean the UK would have a veto over the EU's trade deals, despite not being an EU member. More false promises about Brexit. This country deserves better”.
James Ball seconded that. “Femi is spot on: there are absolutely no circumstances in which the EU would ever offer this. It’s amazing Labour (like the ERG and co) have been able to give voters these false options for so long, without being effectively called out on it”. To a significant extent, both are right. And this is why.
EU spokespeople have warned Theresa May and her team time and again that those who are not EU Member States cannot possibly have a deal with the EU which is as favourable as EU membership - unless they actually join the EU. Full stop, end of story.
The EU does not include third party countries in its trade negotiations. So Norway - for instance - does not get a veto on the deals that emerge from those negotiations. Nor, if we are talking customs union, does Turkey. Those countries could flag up concerns, but they do not, repeat do not, repeat DO NOT have any power of veto.
Nor would the UK be given such a power as a third country. So neither Barry Gardiner, nor any other UK politician, should pretend otherwise. Labour cannot be seen to join the Tories in wanting to have its cake and eating it. That stance is not a credible one.
Labour cannot pitch an outcome to voters that they cannot achieve. What Gardiner has pitched cannot be achieved. What that means I will leave to others to conclude.
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