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#Brexit: Jeremy Corbyn goes to Brussels

| July 14, 2017 | 0 Comments

Jeremy Corbyn presents a copy of the Labour party manifesto to Michel Barnier

It may have been the early start, or maybe it was the absence of a large group of young people singing ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ to the tune of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, but the Labour team looked rather gloomy on their arrival at the Berlaymont building, writes Catherine Feore.

Jeremy Corbyn, accompanied by Diane Abbot – opposition Home Secretary, Keir Starmer – opposition Secretary of State for Leaving the EU and Seumas Milne – Labour Party’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communication were in Brussels to meet Michel Barnier, the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, representing – if not an army – a very resolute group of twenty-seven nations.

Labour had already issued a staunch rebuff to the government’s Repeal Bill anticipated later that day, saying that they would not agree to the massive granting of executive powers to the government, without proper parliamentary scrutiny. Starmer said: “The Bill proposes sweeping new powers for ministers that are fundamentally undemocratic, unaccountable and unacceptable.” Regaining parliamentary sovereignty is a key argument of the Brexiteer – all the more so, as the economic ‘arguments’ fall away; so it is odd that the Bill discards this sovereignty.

‘Public services are very important for me as well’

The Labour team appeared to warm on meeting the chief negotiator. Britain’s tabloid press have tried their best to demonize the anglophile Barnier, but he doesn’t make it easy for them; he is unfailingly polite, respectful to all and has only shown mild frustration at being faced with a chaotic negotiating partner who appears to be ill-prepared a year into the Brexit process. The worst David Davis could say about Barnier is that he is very French (no points there) and logical. Yes, in the face of British madness the EU has been unswervingly, coldly and cynically logical!

In what can only be seen as an attempt to curry favour, Michel Barnier presented Corbyn with an old Societe National de Chemins de Fer poster promoting his region, La Savoie. Here was a French Anglophile Gaullist, dangling the prospect of nationalized rail in front of a Labour Party leader who dreams of this prospect. Just in case this wasn’t clear, Barnier said loud and clear: “[The poster] is produced by the public services. Public services are very important for me as well.” Was there an implied nod and a wink? Hopefully, this message will reach the Lexiteers – left-wing Brexit supporters – those who believe that the European Union is part of a capitalist conspiracy to privatize the National Health Service.

Corbyn presented Barnier with an Arsenal football shirt and a copy of Labour’s manifesto, ‘For the many, not the few’.

‘We accept the result of the referendum’

Corbyn has maintained a low profile on Europe, much to the chagrin of the Party’s more enthusiastic Europhiles. During the referendum campaign he somewhat reluctantly supported the Remain side; when asked to rate his support for the EU, he gave it seven out of ten.

In Brussels, Corbyn repeated Labour’s mantra on “accepting the result of the referendum”, though he acknowledged that 76% of Labour voters supported Remain, while a substantial minority voted Leave. He added that the general election result was based on the Labour position as laid out in the manifesto, which seeks a close relationship with access to the single market.

Corbyn said that he was not interested in weakening regulation, did acknowledge that there had to be a judicial resolution system for Euratom and on citizens’ rights – but did not articulate if this should be the ECJ or another body, and assured – as if such an assurance were needed – that the UK would not become a low-tax regime under his watch.

This rather muddy position of wanting to keep the benefits of the single market and customs union, but not willing to commit to any existing model, such as the EEA, may be a holding position while the British Conservative Party implodes, but as Europe is going to be the dominating issue in UK politics for the next two years it may become untenable.

There are no obvious challengers on the horizon with the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system and no election within sight, but the UK will realize that they are in very deep water soon. I would invite the Labour Party to look across the channel. Macron created a political movement and party in a year, he won the Presidential election and parliament elections by a massive majority almost obliterating the traditional parties of the right and left. The prospect of Brexit could potentially create an equally seismic change in British politics.

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Category: A Frontpage, Brexit, EU, Featured Article, Opinion, Politics, UK

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