Corbyn has been attacked for resisting a second referendum – but leaving on WTO terms will remove us from EU oversight once and for all
I’m certain that many of these attacks have been drummed up those within the Labour movement who have never accepted Jeremy’s election as leader and also by those who refuse to accept the outcome of the referendum they lost. But even if they weren’t, they would still be wrong. They are wrong because given the options on the table, leaving on WTO terms is in the best option for our country, the Labour movement and Labour voters.
This is an argument I have made in a report I have co-authored with Lord Lilley, which is released today. Lord Lilley and I may disagree on much in politics, but we agree that WTO is in the best long-term interests of the country.
Firstly, before I even get into the report, let us remember that many Labour supporters voted for Leave. Some estimates put the number as high as 50% of Labour votes. Anything else but leaving the EU would be completely undemocratic and a betrayal of the promise the government made to implement the decision of the British people. Undoubtedly, the Party would also lose these Labour voters forever. This is a well-worn argument, but it’s worth starting with the most obvious and important arguments first.
Secondly, leaving on WTO terms would mean that we would keep upwards of £39billion, which has been earmarked by Theresa May as part of the Withdrawal Agreement to be handed over, unnecessarily, to the EU. Labour voters know that this Government has reigned over a swingeing Government cutting programme, which has hurt those people at the bottom of society the most and decimated our vital public services.
This extra money could be used to invest in our own national priorities, such as public sector wages, the NHS, housing, fire services, police, youth and much else besides. Lord Lilley and I might disagree on where this money should be spent, but we agree that this decision should be ours.Thirdly, the Government’s completely needless mismanagement of the Brexit process so far has created uncertainty in the country. As a Labour councillor, I know that this uncertainty is felt by those at the bottom of society most of all. For those at the top of society, losing £10 per week might not mean much at all, but for many of my constituents it can mean the difference between going hungry or not. This has been caused by corrosive, unnecessary uncertainty caused by this Conservative government.
Leaving the EU once and for all on WTO terms will help to end this uncertainty, which would likely continue for two years ― or even longer ― under the Withdrawal Agreement. Whether companies finding leaving a challenge or not, they will know where they stand and start investing again.
Fourth, the scare stories about leaving on WTO terms just do not stack up. If we take up Tusk’s offer of a Canada-style free trade deal, trade will continue smoothly. This is because we can continue to trade with the EU on zero tariffs while negotiating new deals, something that is permitted by Article 24 of the WTO Treaty. To put things in perspective, let’s remember six out of the EU’s top ten trading partners trade under WTO rules including our biggest national export market and our primary ally in the world, the United States.
Free from the constraints of the Withdrawal Agreement, we could continue our good work striking trade deals with the rest of the world. For example, we can take up Japan’s invitation to join the Trans Pacific Partnership. New bilateral trade deals need not take a long time to negotiate. We can engage in trade deals with the growing number of Commonwealth countries seeking to renew their relationship with the UK. The average time taken to negotiate a trade deal is 28 months ― for all the deals worldwide negotiated in the last two decades.
Finally, the Irish border issue is not the bogeyman that many people think, and can be solved by administrative measures. The most important thing is that the UK, Ireland and EU have all given assurances that if the UK leaves without a Withdrawal Agreement they will not introduce infrastructure or checks on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. So, who is going to implement this hard border? Remainers have exploited the long and complicated history of Northern Ireland in the most disgraceful way to suit their own ends and have created unnecessary fear and division.
But perhaps the greatest reason for leaving with no deal on WTO terms is that we can, once and for all, remove ourselves from the EU’s judicial oversight. This will mean that a future Labour government can implement a truly progressive, radical and transformative policy programme, such as State Aid provisions and nationalisation of key infrastructure, like our transport system to improve our nation for the many.
The Labour case for WTO is clear. It is time for voters, politicians and others to embrace it too.
Brendan Chilton is the general secretary of Labour Leave