By Mary Kaldor
According to Theresa May, the choice is between her deal, no deal or no Brexit. But the Labour leadership still seems to think that it can negotiate a more ‘sensible deal’. What on earth would a more ‘sensible’ deal look like and is it a sensible strategy for the Labour Party? Is not now the moment to abandon the soft Brexit position and to come out for remain and reform?
First of all, there is the problem of time. Theresa May has left us perilously close to the deadline of March 2019, perhaps deliberately hoping that the fear of no deal will enable her to garner sufficient parliamentary support for her deal. If Labour is to make the argument convincingly that the alternative is not “no deal”, the party has to explain how it will take over, either as a minority government or through a general election and negotiate a new deal in a few short weeks.
Even if the EU were to agree to further negotiations, is this feasible? Surely it would require an extension of Article 50 but would the EU agree to this on the basis of the further ‘purgatory’ of endless negotiations?
Secondly, is there a more sensible deal that would meet Labour’s six tests and meet their stated goal of overcoming the polarisation between leavers and remainers? The agreement made by May with Brussels is not actually the deal. It is an agreement on the terms of withdrawal covering money, citizenship rights and the Northern Ireland border and a rather vaguely worded political declaration about the content of a future deal that would govern the relationship between the UK and the EU. Basically everything remains much the same during the transition period. The political declaration about the content of a final deal commits us to the single market and probably the customs union for goods, although there are caveats, but allows for future control of immigration and is rather vague about everything else. It is a bespoke framework that is close to the Norway and Switzerland options but with control of immigration.