A Labour MP has described the shadow international trade secretary’s position on Brexit as “fundamentally wrong”, calling his arguments “depressing and disingenuous”.
Heidi Alexander said she believed Barry Gardiner to be “intelligent and witty” but that his Guardian article outlining why the UK should leave both the EU single market and customs union “could have come straight out of Tory central office”.
Gardiner argued that people had voted to leave the EU because of a desire to control the country’s borders, have sovereignty over laws and not pay money into the European budget.
He claimed that single market membership akin to that held by Norway would leave Britain a “vassal state”, paying into the budget but with less sovereignty than it has now, concluding “the 52% would almost certainly consider this a con”.
Gardiner said the UK should not seek to remain in the customs union because that would require an asymmetrical agreement that could damage trading prospects. The position places him on collision course with the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer.
Responding to Gardiner in a Guardian article, Alexander said the Labour frontbencher was “fundamentally wrong” on what the party’s Brexit policy should be.
She writes: “[Gardiner] starts by asserting the reasons he says people voted for Brexit last year – a list that could have come straight out of Tory central office – sovereignty, immigration and the ECJ.
“But what about the false promise of large amounts of extra money for the NHS? What about the British prime minister who hyped up his negotiations with the EU but came back with very little to show for it?”
Alexander cited low and middle-income earners hit by longer hours and squeezed household budgets. “If just a tenth of those who voted to leave last year voted for these reasons, the course on which the government is now set (and which Labour will be supporting if we sign up to coming out of the customs union and single market) will not be a course that either enjoyed majority support in June 2016 or that enjoys such support now.”
Alexander said Gardiner was wrong to say that countries in the European Economic Area (EEA), such as Norway, had no say in the rules of the single market.
“They have a hold out power, ultimately underpinned by the ability of their sovereign parliaments to reject any proposed EEA legislation,” she said, arguing that the non-EU bloc in the single market would be significantly boosted by Britain joining it.
“I know it’s not perfect, but it’s better than the economic alternative.”
She also argued that the EEA agreement did allow limits to free movement if economic or social harm could be proved, and said the UK had failed to make use of existing powers to remove Europeans failing to find work after three months.
Alexander suggested that the desire to deal with immigration had softened, and increasingly people wanted an “economy-first, immigration second” position on Brexit – a view shared by the Labour leadership.
The MP also argued that any free trade agreement would require an independent legal arbiter, even if this was not the European court of justice.
“It was only back in December that Barry was quite rightly mocking arch Brexiteer and Tory MP Bill Cash by suggesting that he should add ‘No to prosperity and jobs’ to his list of ‘No to the single market. No to the customs union. No to the European court’,” she added. “I agreed with Barry then, I’m afraid I don’t now.”
This article was written by Anushka Asthana Political editor, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 25th July 2017 16.06 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010