Ian Murray: If we don’t back soft Brexit, Labour won’t be forgiven

Ian Murray
Ian Murray
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Jeremy Corbyn must commit Labour to staying in the EU single market, Ian Murray MP writes

Theresa May is being held to ransom by Jacob Rees-Mogg and the extreme Thatcherite right of her party, threatening a Brexit that will be calamitous for workers, businesses and the future of our country.

With the Tories in turmoil, it is the duty of the Labour Party to set out a clear direction for Britain.

But many voters are confused about Labour’s position on Brexit. It’s time to end the ambiguity: if we are to limit the damage linked to the Tories’ Brexit, we need to stay as a participant in the European single market and customs union. This is the only way to tackle austerity, protect jobs, and defend our hard won rights as workers and consumers.

Given the arithmetic in the House of Commons and the fact that a number of Conservative backbenchers support this stance, our continued participation in the single market and customs union is in Labour’s hands.

Labour should oppose hard Brexit and support remaining in the single market because leaving would mean years more of austerity as tax receipts fall and jobs are lost.

The economic damage of allowing a Tory hard Brexit means we won’t be able to fund Labour’s popular anti-austerity policies that were in our manifesto.

For example, leaving the single market is estimated to cost £45 billion, cutting the money available for governments to spend on health and education.

We can only properly fund local services, schools, hospitals, social care and international development if our businesses thrive and our economy grows.

There are some – including members of my own party – who think the European Union is some form of “capitalist club”. The EU is not perfect, far from it, but we are a much more prosperous country in there fighting for change than sitting outside, economically diluted.

The reality is that the regulations of the single market and customs union have driven up the standards for workers and they prevent a race to the bottom between workers across Europe. That’s why the hard right of the Tory party hate it so much. They want to leave the single market so they can scrap the protections that workers enjoy – and consumers for that matter.

It’s time to bust some myths.

You do not have to be a member of the EU to remain part of the single market. Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland are all outside the EU but inside the single market through their participation in the European Economic Area. They have freedom in the four pillars of the EU single market, most notably with immigration. We can still have an active industrial strategy, public ownership and take the political decisions to end austerity.

It goes without saying that the best way to prevent the damage of Brexit is not to leave the European Union. Indeed, the UK government’s “secret” Brexit analysis shows that the single market is the least worst option when leaving the EU. But as we speed towards the exit door, we must do everything we can to ensure we continue to enjoy the economic benefits of our existing arrangements if Brexit happens.

That’s why I am urging the leadership of the Scottish and UK Labour parties to support permanent UK participation in the single market and the customs union. Our country’s future prosperity depends on it.

Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South