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Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Jeremy Corbyn's Realpolitik: the Customs Union and EU

For more than twenty-five years (or over forty years if we include the the UK's membership of the European Economic Community), Jeremy Corbyn saw the European Union as a “bankers' club”.

This means that Corbyn is still well aware that the EU could prove to be problematic when it comes to his Radical Socialism project. Specifically and to take just one very-recent example, a Labour Party source has only just said that that his Party would ask for “exemptions” to stop the EU blocking Corbyn's plans to nationalise various - and possibly many - industries.

In numerous respects, Corbyn has always been fundamentally against the EU. There are quotes galore which explicitly show this. Here's just one from that large pile:

I assure him that at least 60 Labour Members voted against the Bill... [and] they will vote against the Maastricht treaty again tonight, primarily because it takes away from national Parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers...”

When Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party in September 2015, he quickly realised that the Labour Party was full of committed EUphiles. (I used the term “EUphiles” rather than “Europhiles” because I don't like the latter word and its implications.) Indeed rather than seeing the EU as a “capitalists' club”, these EUphiles see it as a Progressive Club. Indeed some even see it as the best way of insuring socialist (or “progressive”) legislation through the back door (as it were). And if you add to that the EU's commitment to “open borders”, then you can see Corbyn's problem.

Despite saying all that, the EU's commitment to open borders is largely driven by economic – i.e., “capitalist”! - factors, not by International Socialist ideology (as it is when it comes to Corbyn and most Corbynites).

So despite Corbyn's realpolitik, it's hardly surprising that he hasn't entirely pleased all Labour Party Remainers. Yes, they believe that Corbyn should have backed remaining in the single market/EU; not only a customs union.

Nonetheless, it's true that even some Corbynites are also hardcore EUphiles. It's simply the case that they see the EU very differently to how Corbyn sees it. They may well have the same dreams about what the EU can politically and legally achieve in the future. However, the positions of Labour Party Remainers on what the EU actually is are radically at odds with Corbyn's.

So Corbyn isn't dumb. He knows that remaining a harsh and relentless critic of the EU would quite possibly split the Labour Party in two. Indeed, more specifically, supporting a “hard Brexit” would also have a similar effect on the Labour Party. Thus Corbyn's most recent position on a new customs union is the latest display of this “consistent” and “principled” leader's extreme realpolitik position.

Yes, Corbyn is a “typical politician” after all! And, for the sake of the Labour Party, perhaps that's not such a bad thing.

Corbyn on EU Threats

Jeremy Corbyn admitted that his new position on a new customs union was partly a response to EU threats. He said that creating a permanent “comprehensive” union would hopefully deter the EU from imposing trade tariffs on the UK.

In more detail, Corbyn said that a customs union would "protect jobs" because it would mean that the EU wouldn't punish the UK as severely as it otherwise would do. Corbyn believes that if the UK appeases the EU enough, then UK-based trade would continue to flow across borders without many restrictions.

Nonetheless, Corbyn also admitted that this customs union would effectively prevent Britain doing trade deals with other countries outside the EU. Despite that, Corbyn still believes that the UK could benefit from the deals which the EU will sign with third parties. That is, our dealings with countries outside the EU would still be managed and controlled by the EU itself. Yes, the EU would still be the ultimate political, legal and economic power.

Now is it a good thing for a democratic nation to give in to threats from a super-state? Is Corbyn the Neville Chamberlain of the 21st century?

Corbyn's Plans to “Topple” the Tories

Rather cheekily, Corbyn is using his own (semi)about-turn on the EU as a means to help him “topple” the Conservative Government. He's assuming - or hoping! - that there will be a Tory backbench rebellion against a “hard Brexit”. He also believes that others outside the Tory Party will see his new position on a new customs union as a sensible middle-way.

In his own words, Corbyn said that Theresa May was leaving voters

in the dark about what the divided Conservative government actually wants out of Brexit”.

(Who knows, perhaps Corbyn will also convince these very same Tories that mass collectivisation/nationalisation, huge tax rises, etc. are a good thing too.)

You see, Corbyn and and the Labour Party have very similar problems to that which faces Theresa May and the Conservative Party. Corbyn knows that. May knows that. And indeed most people know that. The Institute of Directors also knows that.

The Institute has just said that both Labour and the Tories are guilty of leaving “many unanswered questions” about our relationship with the EU in the future. And that, of course, is making it difficult for businesses to plan ahead.

Not surprisingly, then, the extreme EUphile Liberal Democrats have chipped in on this. Tim Brake, for example, said:

Corbyn started his speech claiming that Labour’s position on Brexit has been consistent — by which he must mean consistently vague — and today was no different.”


Jeremy Corbyn has equivocated – or contradicted himself – on the European Union and Brexit many times. During the last election campaign, understandably, he equivocated even more. The Labour Party itself is in two minds. As the Labour Party was before Corbyn's rise to the top. Indeed it was only under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's leadership that any equivocation on this issue was effectively squashed.

Not surprisingly, then, Corbyn once sacked three frontbenchers over this very subject. Another MP resigned because of a Brexit amendment. 

However, since Corbyn is a member of a political party which is made up of many EUphiles, he's always been in a quandary. As I said, that quandary deepened when he became leader of the Labour Party in 2015. It deepened even more during the 2017 election campaign.

To state the obvious: as an old-style socialist, Corbyn is against the EU. Full stop. And, again as a socialist, Corbyn sees it as being “run on behalf of employers” by “an unelected set of bankers”. 

For Jeremy Corbyn, the European Union would be fine and dandy if it were a union of socialist republics (or even a single socialist republic) which had (among many other things) completely open borders. This would of course assuage the dreams and desires of International Socialists, rather than those of "capitalist" EU “bankers”.

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