The agreement will leave Britons worse off in every way. The opposition should not be helping the government to pass it
- Manuel Cortes is general secretary of the TSSA, a trade union for workers in the transport and travel trade industries
Newlyn, Cornwall. ‘Even on the very issue that our prime minister decided to take an illogical stance given its marginal importance to our economy – fishing – the EU got a very good deal.’ Photograph: Hugh Hastings/Getty Images
As details of the trade and cooperation agreement between the European Union and Britain’s Tory government emerge, it’s increasingly obvious that the wafer-thin deal is not fit for purpose. It will leave us poorer as a nation both economically and culturally. As a socialist, I oppose it. And, in the face of failure from a Labour leadership that has called on its MPs to support the deal, I urge them to vote against it.
Michel Barnier and his team, in a very skilful way, have crafted an agreement that allows the EU to continue to maximise its advantage on trade in goods in which they enjoy a huge surplus, but then limits the ability of Britain’s service sector to continue to flourish – an area in which our country has, until now, enjoyed a competitive advantage. Ursula von der Leyen delivered a measured, dignified and graceful speech as she announced that a deal had been reached – something our bumbling prime minister could take a few lessons on. However, I am sure that behind the scenes Barnier and his team were popping the champagne corks: mission accomplished.
Frankly, the deal shouldn’t come as a surprise unless you are deluded about Britain’s place in the world. In trade talks, the most powerful entities always win. A market of over 400 million people versus one of under 70 million – that’s Britain’s real problem. So the result was never in any real doubt. Even on the very issue that our prime minister decided to take an illogical stance given its marginal importance to our economy – fishing – the EU got a very good deal which will be difficult for die-hard Brexiteers to swallow.
The entire philosophy behind trade deals is to increase the volume of commercial transactions between signatories by making trading easier. The trade and cooperation agreement coming into force on 1 January 2021 will be the first free trade deal that increases red tape in comparison to what we had before. British manufactured goods will face new hurdles – and costs – compared to those made within the EU’s single market. On services, the government has handed over complete control to EU member states to unilaterally decide under what conditions our service sector can trade in their countries. Of course, this makes perfect sense from their perspective, but it doesn’t for our economy and the many thousands of jobs that depend on our export of services. Frankly, the agreement is completely unbalanced in the EU’s favour.
Why does all this matter, you may ask? It matters because it will make our economy smaller, and as a result we will be poorer, with fewer jobs being created. But this is not just about our economic wellbeing, as important as that is. It’s also about our cultural and social lives being impoverished. Ending freedom of movement and our participation in the Erasmus programme will narrow our horizons and experiences.
Of course, some on the left say that we shouldn’t take sides in what is effectively a fight within the capitalist class. And this might be the right strategy if we had the forces to ensure the creation of a new socialist dawn. But when this isn’t the case, we shouldn’t be neutral. We must argue for a relationship with the EU that gives working people the greatest confidence to fight for something that’s better – not worse – than their current lot. The higher unemployment and lower living standards that the trade deal will deliver will do nothing of the sort. It also keeps in place – lock, stock and barrel – the legal framework that has led to the privatisation of public services and attacks on workers’ terms and conditions – a reason many “lexiteers” backed withdrawing from the EU.
Sadly, the response from Labour’s frontbench and leader to this wretched deal has been abysmal. The white flag was hoisted when the ink on the deal was barely dry and before its full contents were known. The party’s leadership is also miserably failing to articulate what improvements an incoming Labour government would seek. A comprehensive customs union with the EU should be a no-brainer and the minimum needed to help protect the long-term future of our manufacturing jobs.
Labour is now attempting to pull off a trick that even the great Harry Houdini would have struggled with: voting for the rotten Tory deal while claiming it has nothing to do with us, guv. The public will simply not buy this and will blame Labour too for its shortcomings. The leader of the opposition should remember that the clue is in his title: Keir Starmer isn’t there to facilitate Tory misrule. And if he doesn’t give the lead, Labour MPs must break the whip and vote against the deal.
Manuel Cortes is general secretary of the TSSA, a trade union for workers in the transport and travel trade industries
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