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Comparing Labour’s Brexit and the Tories’ Brexit

Are Labour and the Tories’ stance on Brexit the same? In some ways, yes. And in others, no.


The two main parties in this election have been clear that they would pursue Britain’s exit from the EU. There are other similarities in their Brexit plans too. Both state that Brexit will mean the end of free movement and will therefore take the UK out of the single market. Both want a free trade deal with the EU. In the Institute for Government’s analysis of both parties’ take on Brexit, both also fail “to acknowledge the true scale of the exercise” of Brexit. And both parties “have vastly understated the impact it [Brexit] will have on what any government can achieve”. Neither have acknowledged the costs, resources Brexit requires either.

‘No deal’

But there are also differences too. Theresa May continues to tell us that “‘no deal’ is better than a bad deal” while Jeremy Corbyn has said “‘no deal’ is in fact a bad deal”. Analysis including that by the Centre for European Reform and JP Morgan suggest the Corbyn is correct. In any case the reference to a “bad deal” is an arbitrary one because the Tories have not identified what that would be.

Good cop, bad cop

Another clear difference between the two parties on Brexit is how each proposes to approach Brexit talks. Whilst the Tories seem keen to line up the EU as wanting to “punish” us, Labour have not been so scathing of the bloc and prefer a more “collaborative, cooperative” approach. Here’s writer Owen Jones talking to Keir Starmer about the differences between Labour and the Conservative party’s approach to Brexit.

Immigration

Whilst both have said they will put forward new policies on immigration, Labour has not set a target for getting net migration down. The Tories have – although it’s unclear whether they have set a deadline for their target! The difference in approach here is important in that Labour’s is at least realistic. And with research suggesting a drastic cut in immigration would further damage the economy, not committing to a reduced number would also be better for the country’s GDP.

Customs union

There is also a difference in the approach to the UK’s membership of the customs union. The Tory party is clear that as well as leaving the single market, the country will also leave the EU customs union. How they expect to achieve “frictionless borders” particularly between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is completely unclear.

The Labour manifesto is less clear on its position on the customs union, simply saying that they want to retain the benefits of both the single market and customs union. However, speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said that customs union membership should stay “on the table” in Brexit negotiations. Agreeing some kind of customs union membership would go some way in achieving no tariffs on goods with the EU. Although it’s unlikely to include services trade, which accounts for 80% of the UK economy.

European Court of Justice

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is one of Theresa May’s red lines. However, leaving the jurisdiction of it was curiously absent from the Tory manifesto. Perhaps it was a mistake or perhaps it was because they now recognise how much more difficult securing a “deep and special partnership” will be outside of it. It is, however, in their Brexit white paper. Leaving the jurisdiction of the ECJ entirely will not just make agreeing a new deal more difficult, it also makes agreeing a transitional deal more difficult. If the Tories believe that agreeing to some level of ECJ jurisdiction is a ‘bad deal’, then we really would be headed for a ‘no deal’ scenario.

Outside of trade, leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice also makes collaborative projects and institutions such as Horizon 2020, Euratom, European Medicines Agency and Open Skies difficult.

Labour has not ruled out ECJ jurisdiction. And there’s reason to believe they would be happy to accept some level of ECJ jurisdiction because its manifesto said they want either continued membership or an “equivalent relationship” on a number of EU projects and institutions such as those mentioned above.

Another vote

Both parties do not support a second referendum on Brexit once the terms are known. However, Labour said it would legislate for Parliament to have a “meaningful vote” on the Brexit deal including a say on whether to accept “no deal”. However, Labour leave out any detail about what would happen if the negotiation period is up and there is still no agreement. Perhaps they are putting their faith in Parliament to make that choice.

The Tories also say Parliament will get a vote on the deal although it won’t be legislated and a rejection of the deal reached (if there is one) would lead to the UK walking away with “no deal”.

Labour and Tory manifestos on Brexit side-by-side

For a really close look at what each manifesto says on Brexit, the Institute for Government has a great table which sets each party’s points side-by-side. The first of three slides of their table is below. Click on it to see it in full.

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