Corbyn’s weakness on Brexit endangers Labour’s revival

June 30, 2017 at 8:51 am (Europe, Jim D, labour party, reformism, TUC, unions, Unite the union, workers, youth)

Cartoon: The Economist

Corbyn and his team risk jeopardising Labour’s election success because of their backwardness over Europe and de facto commitment to supporting the Tories over Brexit.

It was always a fundamental political weakness waiting to be exposed, although during the general election campaign the Corbyn team skilfully maintained a policy of studied ambiguity.

Corbyn’s capitulation to the Tories over Brexit and the sacking of three front benchers who voted for the amendment to stay in the single market and customs union, is a big mistake, because:

  • It will dismay and disillusion the overwhelmingly pro-EU internationalist and anti-racist youth who rallied to Labour and Corbyn at the election
  • Labour’s mistaken but just about plausible argument that it is bound by the referendum result to support leaving the EU has been stretched to arguing that the referendum also binds it to oppose the single market and customs union
  •  This position has enabled opportunist right wingers like Chuka Umanna and Meg Hillier to take a different stance from Corbyn and thus generate headlines about Labour division just at a time when the Tories are weak
  •  Newly-elected left Labour MPs like Lloyd Russell Moyle and Alex Sobel have been put in a position of going against Corbyn alongside right wingers
  • This risks alienating unions like Unite, which are acutely aware that their members’ jobs in manufacturing will be put at risk outside the single market and customs union: Unite has policy to stay in both, as does Usdaw and the TUC.

Labour MPs, MEPs and peers have launched a group opposing hard Brexit and in favour of staying in the single market and customs union. They’ve signed a statement arguing, amongst other things, that young voters backed the party in the general election because they wanted it to “stop the Tories in their tracks” over Brexit. Some of us here at Shiraz might disagree with some aspects of the statement, but it’s considerably better than Corbyn’s position.


  1. David Walsh said,

    Yup. Nothing more to add.

  2. rotzeichen said,

    Not so much a socialist blog but Centrist Libdem, it’s a pity Shiraz like the Libdems get it so wrong and Jeremy Corbyn gets it right.

    I note you reluctantly pass a verdict that Jeremy Corbyn’s veiw and his team of course was right to pursue their Brexit Strategy not as you purport that supporting the Tories, but a soft Brexit line of protecting as much as possible all the good pieces of legislation and where possible retaining access to the single market.

    That is of course not ambiguous but simple common sense which you misconstrue to suit your own agenda, whatever that is.

    I would remind you the Tim Farron’s sole policy that failed to get traction was your espoused view of Brexit.

    In effect people did not see Europe as the main concern during the election, and were much more focused on bread and butter matters, Tim Farron on the other hand thought he was playing clever on a single issue and demonstrated how the Neo-Liberal centre has lost all credibility and he turned himself into a laughing stock.

    We had a referendum on Europe the people have decided, yes blogs like this have not moved on and are still fighting the last battle, Get over it, we are coming out of Europe, our problem is blogs like this misinforming their readers about the genuine position of the opposition.

    Jeremy is not the government, the Tories are being supported by the DUP and the Libdems. We do need a strong Labour representation in Europe based on co-operation rather than the current evil axis that would rather engineer a total break down so that they could instigate Trade World organisation Neo-Liberal free for all trade deals.

    If this blog wants to be credible, it could at least relate the facts about Labour’s position and realistically assess the genuine difficulties that are facing us all, We want to arrive at a juncture where we don’t harm Europe’s interests just as much as we don’t want them to harm our’s.

    Jeremy Corbyn more than anyone else understands that, not forgetting that we are a net importer of other peoples finished products, including Europe, so it is in all our interests to get on as amicably as possible. The Tories on the other hand have a totally different agenda and will create problems which we will only fully understand as they adversely impact on us.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Brexit is, by its very nature, isolationist, nationalist and racist. Serious scientific socialists cannot support it in any shape or form (“soft” or “hard”): sadly, Corbyn, coming from the reactionary nationalist Bennite background and surrounded by isolationist Stalinist advisors , is wedded to an anti-EU tradition that sees him, effectively backing the Tories over Brexit. Well, that’s what he’s doing, isn’t it, rotzeichen? If you disagree, please explain how he’s *not* doing it.

      As some of us noted in 1975, on the question of the EEC Ted Heath’s Tories were to the left of Benn and Foot.

      PS: RE “We want to arrive at a juncture where we don’t harm Europe’s interests just as much as we don’t want them to harm our’s”, who, exactly, are “we” and “us”, rotzeichen?

  3. Political Tourist said,

    No doubt once the Ukip front group (Tories) take us out of Europe the real agenda will appear. Workers rights will go the next day and we’ll be left doffing our caps to the DUP bigots.

    • rotzeichen said,

      That argument stands if we are talking about the Tories or UKIP but listen to what Jeremy Corbyn is actually saying instead of attributing right wing propaganda against him.

      I did not reply to Jim Denham that has clearly got an anti left agenda going, he has always tried to denigrate Jeremy Corbyn no matter what he says.

      There are some very basic facts that pro-Europeans need to understand, that whilst in the past they produced good workers rights and environmental legislation, they have in the recent past tried to impose TTIP on to us, the most undemocratic piece of legislation we have ever seen. It would have empowered corporations that they could sue governments for loss of profit, and the body set up with jurisdiction over it was waited in favour of the corporations.

      What does this lead thinking people to understand, that the real issue facing us and the Europeans is Neo-Liberalism. That is the driving force throughout Europe and the very real challenge we face here in Britain.

      Germany is currently under Merkel, privatising their Autobahns, the Neo Liberal agenda rolls on and still the people of Europe blindly follow their leaders. We can now at least arrest that here in Britain, but we need a Labour Government under Jeremy Corbyn to achieve it.

      Jim Denham who pretends to be on the left proves with his diatribe:

      “coming from the reactionary nationalist Bennite background and surrounded by isolationist Stalinist advisors”

      That his statement bears no relation to fact, and is pure right wing propaganda.

      We are no longer an export trading nation, we are in fact a net importer of other nations foreign goods, we don’t actually need all these so called trade deals. We buy from them not sell to them, in fact we should be concentrating on creating industries here to provide for ourselves rather than buying from the rest of the world.

      Whilst endeavouring to protect what industry we still have, something that is illegal under the EU, we could invest for the future rather than being restricted by Neo-Liberal trading rules, that protect the interests of Multi National Corporations.

      We are coming out of Europe, that is the reality, so lets start thinking about what kind of future we can create that looks after the interests of all our people and not just the few.

      Finally, we have our own fiat currency, which means we are not tied to European Central Bank regulation that impoverished Greece, we have the money to invest in people, if you doubt that ask yourself where May got £1 billion from to bribe the DUP.

      • rotzeichen said,

        Sorry for the typo Weighted not Waited.

      • Jim Denham said,

        “Whilst endeavouring to protect what industry we still have, something that is illegal under the EU”: this statement is simply factually incorrect – a nationalist/Stalinist urban myth, as Shiraz Socialist has demonstrated in many previous posts and the btl debates that followed. I’ll post some links when I get a moment.

        In the meanwhile, you don’t have to take just our word for it. Sam Fowles argues a purely legalistic case (below) which is in anycase, only a small part of the argument, leaving out the impact of class struggle on what governments inside or outside of the EU, can be forced to do. Even so he blows apart the myth that EU membership outlaws nationalisation.


        Sorry Nigel, nationalisation is not against EU Law

        by Sam Fowles

        Nigel Farage thinks EU law prevents nationalisation. Ironically he seems to have got this from a recent post on Left Futures by Westminster University’s Danny Nicol. Professor Nicol argues that the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) and EU liberalisation directives prohibit renationalisation of energy utilities, as proposed by Jeremy Corbyn.

        Professor Nicol raises an important point. The EU probably encroaches on the sovereignty of member states to its most egregious degree when it comes to market liberalisation. Art. 176 TFEU commits member states to the expansion of markets.

        I have a lot of respect for Professor Nicol and recommend his excellent book. But I can’t help but feel that, in this instance, he has reduced a complex area of law to a zero sum conclusion. There are many forms of “nationalisation” that would never be touched by the TFEU (such as taking utilities into municipal control, as has happened in Germany). Furthermore, EU law wouldn’t prohibit the sort of nationalisation proposed by Mr Corbyn.

        Let’s be clear, the Corbyn plan isn’t for complete nationalisation. Mr Corbyn wants to nationalise the grid (the infrastructure that transports gas and electricity from generator to supplier), the “Big Six” energy companies and the railways.

        EU law explicitly protects the right of member states to nationalise industries. Art. 345 TFEU states “The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States (MS) governing the system of property ownership.” In his book Professor Nicol argues that this provision has recently been ignored by the ECJ. This is largely correct but it does not justify the conclusion that it will always be ignored.

        Art. 345 remains in the treaty. It is possible to generally promote liberal markets and operate some industries as national monopolies. Arts. 176 and 345 are not mutually exclusive. The ECJ has often been tolerant of member states accused of violating the treaties if their actions are “proportionate“, i.e. for a legitimate aim (which would include one endorsed by the electorate) and effective, but not excessive, in achieving that aim. Assuming that nationalisation was prominent in Mr Corbyn’s manifesto, conducted on a transparent timetable and proper compensation was paid, Mr Corbyn would have a strong case based on Art. 345.

        But even without Art. 345 EU law would not prohibit the Corbyn plan. Professor Nicol relies heavily on Art. 106 TFEU. But this provision doesn’t ban nationalised industries. It simply regulates how they can behave in relation to other enterprises. In essence, enterprises with a dominant position in the market due to state action cannot use that position to behave unreasonably. The ECJ will only intervene if Art. 106 is breached.

        Professor Nicol argues in his book that the ECJ now presumes that a government supported enterprise will always breach Art. 106. But this is based on a case in which the enterprise in question acted truly outrageously. It’s not clear that the decisions in this case would apply across the board. It almost certainly wouldn’t apply to the railways as these are already operated by government subsidised monopolies. If there’s only one player in the game it doesn’t make the market any more or less competitive if his name is Corbyn or Branson.

        Even the court decides Art. 106 has been breached, the treaty includes exceptions allowing a state supported entity to operate without or with limited competition if it is necessary in the national interest.

        This gives the Corbyn plan two defences. It could ensure that its nationalised enterprises cohere with Art. 106 ab initio (for example by writing a duty to respect it into the Act of Parliament). Or it could argue that it qualifies for an exemption.

        The latter argument would be stronger if the new enterprise was to focus on green energy. Energy suppliers themselves have argued that taking the necessary steps to respond to climate change is too difficult in the existing energy market. Yet EU law purports to take climate change very seriously. The Corbyn government could argue that nationalisation represents an essential (and legally mandated) response to climate change.

        Professor Nicol also argues that EU directives on electricity and gas will prevent nationalisation. It’s true that both directives require that third parties have access to the national grid. This seems to prohibit a monopoly. But it wouldn’t prohibit nationalisation of the grid. The grid is inevitably operated by natural monopolies (it would be absurd to have competing grids) and this reality is accepted in the directives long as third parties can access the grid. Nationalising the grid would make no difference to the current dynamics of the market.

        There are over a hundred energy generators and suppliers in the UK. The Corbyn plan only involves nationalising the “Big Six”. Clearly this wouldn’t prevent “third party” access to the grid. In France over 90% of the market is dominated by state owned or backed entities. Allowing third parties access to just 20% of the market was sufficient for France to discharge its obligations.

        We should also remember that the directives must be applied in the spirit of the treaties. This brings Art. 345 back into the mix. It would be difficult for the ECJ to overturn a proportionately conducted, partial nationalisation considering that the fundamental law of the EU recognises the rights of member states to do just that.

        Finally it’s worth noting that the energy industry already receives significant state aid. It would be difficult for opponents of nationalisation to sue based on an unfair competition argument when it’s by no means clear that the previous situation was any better.

        In summary, the Corbyn plan may well face a challenge in the ECJ. But so might almost any piece of legislation. EU law would by no means, immediately prohibit a properly handled nationalisation. This is important. Debate about progressive ideas can too often be choked off by assertions of illegality. Those of us who care about the environment (or just about our energy bill) should fervently hope that doesn’t happen here.

        Sam Fowles is a researcher in International Law and Politics at Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Sydney. He blogs for the Huffington Post and tweets at @SamFowles

      • rotzeichen said,

        State aid, control of direct and indirect aid given by Member States of the European Union to companies under TFEU article 107
        This last point is a unique characteristic of the European competition law regime. As the European Union is made up of independent member states, both competition policy and the creation of the European single market could be rendered ineffective were member states free to support national companies as they saw fit. A 2013 Civitas report lists some of the artifices used by participants to skirt the state aid rules on procurement.[2] Primary authority for applying competition law within the European Union rests with European Commission and its Directorate General for Competition, although state aids in some sectors, such as agriculture, are handled by other Directorates General. The Directorates can mandate that improperly-given state aid be repaid, as was the case in 2012 with Malev Hungarian Airlines.[3]

      • Jim Denham said,

        The simple fact is that membership of the EU does not outlaw nationalisation or state aid, as case after case demonstrates (eg French railways, Italian steel, the experience of Bombadier trains in Derby, etc, etc).

        Nor is the case that the root cause of the neo Liberal policies of successive UK governments has originated in Brussels.

        The class struggle is crucial. And that can only be set back by the nationalism and racism of Brexit

        This article by Jon Wight (not a natural ally of many of us at Shiraz), is worth reading:

        Note, in particular:

        “Here, on the left, opponents of Corbyn’s position (during the referendum campaign) claim that public ownership is illegal under current EU legislation. But they’re wrong, at least according Article 345 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU of 1958, which states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’

        “This legislation remains extant and refutes the claim that existing EU legislation prohibits the kind of nationalization, or public ownership, being advocated by Jeremy Corbyn. But even if it did prohibit it, are we seriously suggesting that in the event that Corbyn gets elected prime minister on a manifesto that includes public ownership that he would not be able to implement it? Nonsense. If David Cameron can negotiate ‘special status’ for Britain within the EU in areas of welfare benefits and migration, then so can Corbyn on taking key industries and services into public ownership. Britain remains a major economy, not just within Europe but globally, and with that economic status comes negotiating power.

        “But things won’t have to go that far given that all across the EU state or public ownership within the transport and energy sectors is currently a fact of life.”

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