Sunday 18 June
On the anniversary of the great battle that saved our nation from European tyranny 202 years ago, it is disappointing to see Jeremy Corbyn far from meeting his political Waterloo as he and his increasingly merry band of shadow cabinet members fail to clearly spell out their position on Brexit.
First off the mark in the morning’s Sunday interviews was Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer who insisted by leaving the EU we would definitely be leaving the single market. Not quite true, while no non-EU states is a member of the ‘internal market’ EEA nations like Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein are commonly understood to be in the single market – an informal term. Furthermore, these countries are not in the dreaded customs union, which the political class remain worryingly attached to.
Indeed, Starmer admitted on the Andrew Marr show that the option of staying in the Customs Union – and thus depriving ourselves of an independent trade policy – would be on the table under a Labour government. That frightening prospect was given little additional clarity when Corbyn appeared on ITV’s Peston a few moments later.
Faced with the same line of questioning, the Labour leader failed to separate Labour’s position on Britain’s departure from the EU from the Tories, adding in the usual touchy-feely language about “partnerships” and the “environment” and criticizing the ruling party’s “no deal is better than a bad deal” refrain.
Perhaps someone should point out to Mr Corbyn that, as soon as tomorrow, we enter into a blood and guts negotiation with the EU. Perhaps we should remind him and others that it is the EU which has chosen to take the moral low ground by demanding an unsubstantiated €100 billion fee from the British taxpayer and doing everything possible to close down the preciously (and deliberately) brief negotiating period. What we are about to face is a scrap of Waterloo proportions, not a backslapping anti-war rally.
Chancellor Philip Hammond cut a different figure on Marr, reassuring his opponents, who rightfully fear his strong Remain instinct, that Britain will leave the single market, including the Customs Union. Having said that, ‘Remain’, formerly known as ‘spreadsheet’, Phil was not entirely convincing as he dithered over the precise terms of a transitional period and the need for customs checks to be flexible. Could we be remaining under a customs union of a different name? Don’t count against it.
Thankfully, this possibility looks slimmer as rising fears of a soft Brexit under an enfeebled Prime Minister have encouraged the hardliners on the Tory backbenchers to issue a ‘stalking horse’ warning: they will threaten the PM with a leadership challenge in the event of a swing to single market compromises.
The stern warning was reinforced by an article in the Sunday Times by MP, David Jones. The outgoing Brexit minister and leave campaigner correctly argues that a ‘soft’ departure from the EU will not represent the will of the people, as expressed almost a year ago today.