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February 16, 2018



Did you vote in 1983?Geography and history determine that Britain is part of Europe, and Labour wants to see Europe safe and prosperous. But the European Economic Community, which does not even include the whole of Western Europe, was never devised to suit us, and our experience as a member of it has made it more difficult for us to deal with our economic and industrial problems. It has sometimes weakened our ability to achieve the objectives of Labour's international policy.

The next Labour government, committed to radical, socialist policies for reviving the British economy, is bound to find continued membership a most serious obstacle to the fulfilment of those policies. In particular the rules of the Treaty of Rome are bound to conflict with our strategy for economic growth and full employment, our proposals on industrial policy and for increasing trade, and our need to restore exchange controls and to regulate direct overseas investment. Moreover, by preventing us from buying food from the best sources of world supply, they would run counter to our plans to control prices and inflation.

For all these reasons, British withdrawal from the Community is the right policy for Britain - to be completed well within the lifetime of the parliament. That is our commitment. But we are also committed to bring about withdrawal in an amicable and orderly way, so that we do not prejudice employment or the prospect of increased political and economic co-operation with the whole of Europe.

Tony Benn never seems to have changed his mind and nor has Dennis Skinner to name 2.


If they give a rat's arse about the people of the country, rather than just being elected, surely they should do all they can to prevent it being an unmitigated disaster, instead of of just being vague. To me, that is like standing around and watching an accident happen and doing naff all to prevent it. In my view they too are culpable.

Luis Enrique

I always thought Germany had a non-replicable position in machine tools manufacturing, so comparisons against it are a little unfair?

oh and they are shovelling it. in our faces.


For clarity, should membership of the Customs Union mean continuing with Freedom of Movement and also mean we cannot negotiate separate free-trade agreements with non-EU nations? Proponents of Labour making staying in the Customs Union a policy a bit vague on these aspects of there deal.


Very excellent piece, Chris. Spot on!


The only advantage of leaving the EU is we can reinstate capital controls when and where needed. If we stay as we must, we have to hope the EU can be won round to them.


I don't know, should the Labour party take strategy advice from a macroeconomist? Over half the voting population went with what today's administration is offering – Brexit. Only the ballot box can change this particular reality. Advisory small print notwithstanding, its in Parliaments hands, so what's to be gained by going all in before the Tories? What's the more likely consequence, an election sooner than otherwise, or months and months of Gung ho Brexiters having the easier task of degrading Labours position without comparison to their own (it being still under wraps). I fear SWL's strategy would unleash reams and reams of nonsensical BS... again.

Dave Timoney

I think it would be more accurate to say that Labour made its peace with contemporary capitalism in the 1980s. The EU was simply one incidence of this shift in attitude, and New Labour was the logical conclusion.

In that sense your criticism - that Labour should be using the Custom Union to point up the deficiencies of British capitalism - is sound, but by the same token its reluctance to commit to the CU may suggest that its essentially social democratic critique of capitalism is less profound than advertised (by friend and foe alike).


«I always thought Germany had a non-replicable position in machine tools manufacturing»

It used to be that England had a "non-replicable position in machine tools manufacturing" and engineers worldwide did not trust cheap poorly built german copies of english machine tools.


«Tony Benn never seems to have changed his mind»

He did not but he also had exactly the same opinion of Westminster and Whitehall as he had of Strasbourg and Bruxelles, that is he was in effect against membership of both the UK and the EU.

He simply was against elitist political systems, which is a bit of a wishful conceit. But he did not have, at least at some time, another wishful conceit, because at least in 1965 he wrote as to the specific merits of the EU:

“Defence, colour television, Concorde, rocket development - these are all issues raising economic considerations that reveal this country's basic inability to stay in the big league. We just can’t afford it.
The real choice is — do we go in with Europe or do we become an American satellite? Without a conscious decision being taken the latter course is being followed everywhere.
In reality the choice lies between Britain as an island and US protectorate, or Britain as a full member of the Six, followed by a wider European federation.
I was always against the Common Market but the reality of our isolation is being borne in on me all the time.”

That is way more realistic than most delusional exiters, whose positions are based on one of two assumptions:

#1 The UK pays token membership dues and has to respect membership rules but it gets absolutely nothing out of membership, and being out therefore has no disadvantages.

#2 The UK pays token membership dues and has to respect membership rules but being out has big advantages because since the UK has no real representation in EU decision making it has become a servant of the EUSSR/Fourth Reich/New French Empire, and that's an intolerable national humiliation as well as being exploitative.

Both #1 and #2 are based fundamentally on a rejection of T Benn's point and on the assumption that being "out" is at worst a costless option, without any political or economic downsides, and that realpolitik is not a thing, and sovereignty and independence are a simple matter of declamation, not of power and influence; that therefore outside the EU the UK can be as sovereign and independent as the Kingdom of the Isle of Man :-).

Therefore many "Leavers" seem to think that the choice is not between more sovereignty and independence and economic options for the *people* of the UK within the EU, and the alternative of being even more of an USA protectorate, but either:

* between being bound to christian-democrat or centre-left EU policies and "socialism in one country";

* between subjugation to state socialism or german or french exploitation and dictatorship and a glorious re-establishment of Splendid Isolation with Imperial Preference.

At least in 1965 T Benn realized that "socialism in one country" was not a realistic option, and neither was Splendid Isolation, and what the realistic options were.


«Tony Benn never seems to have changed his mind and nor has Dennis Skinner to name 2.»

As to D Skinner and J Corbyn T Benn wrote:

“One of the causes that Benn consistently believed should trump the siren call of high office was Europe. Here he sometimes found himself out of step with his comrades on the left, including Corbyn. In 1992 he was passionately committed to a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, on the grounds that Parliament was abrogating the sovereignty of the people. Not only was the entire Labour shadow cabinet under John Smith opposed to such a view, so too was a group that included Corbyn, Dennis Skinner and Bernie Grant. ‘It disoriented me a bit,’ Benn writes, ‘because you don’t like to go against your own people.’ Still, Benn felt he had no choice but to press on, and was shot down in flames at a meeting of the PLP.”

D Skinner may have changed his position again. :-)

But I note that "Parliament was abrogating the sovereignty of the people", still based on the assumption that the sovereignty of the people is a matter of declamation, rather than realpolitik, and that anyhow the people of the UK would have no representation within the EU, it being merely a tool designed to subjugate the UK to the capitalist/soviet/german/french dictatorship.


So "Leavers": are the people of the Kingdom of Man who elect the Tinwald in Douglas, and which is not a member of the UK and EU, (and NATO, WTO, UN, all run by faceless unaccountable bureaucrats), more or less independent and sovereign than the people of Scotland who elect the Assembly in Edinburgh, and which is presently a member of the UK, EU (and NATO, WTO, UN)?

The only possible answer you can give is "yes, they are more sovereign and independent" :-).

A.J. Maher

Chris’s point about exports is well made. A global exporting giant (Germany) is clearly not substantially constrained by its membership of the EU’s customs union. But Britain has been a net importer of goods since the 1870’s – this trade deficit in visibles is therefore baked in to the structure of the UK economy. The domestic economy is a far bigger component of UK GDP and as a consequence it is a far more important driver of the UK’s growth rate than is the case in Germany.

It follows that the imposition of customs union tariffs and single market regulation is a much more significant constraint on the UK’s importing economy than it is on Germany’s exporting economy. For Britain it is this reduction in the costs of imports that is the dividend of exiting from the customs union. World prices are significantly lower than UK prices and a reduction in input costs and retail prices will be a powerful stimulant to the UK’s GDP.

It should also be an embarrassment that the contemporary left has conceded the argument on cheap food & clothing (an argument strongly articulated by socialists from Bevan to Benn) to so archaic and ultramontaine a conservative as Jacob Rees Mogg!

The broader case for Lexit is made by Richard Tuck – pre referendum here:


post referendum here:



«But Britain has been a net importer of goods since the 1870’s [ ... ] For Britain it is this reduction in the costs of imports that is the dividend of exiting from the customs union.»

Average import tariffs are a few % and all they do it is to give a slight advantage to imports from the EU rather than from the rest of the world, and even so the EU has zero tariffs from many third world countries. And any reductions in tariffs would be small compared to a further fall in the value of the pound, which would be needed to make english wages more competitive outside the EU.

Also the issue is not as simple as "cheap import prices": it would be if membership of the EU CU had no advantages at all, so that it was designed just as a way to let the EUSSR/Fourth Reich/New French Empire pauperize England.
But the question is whether the slight cost to imports of EU CU membership is smaller than the benefit to exports, and the benefit to english workers of reduced wage competition with non-EU workers.

And the answer to that is clear: the german car exporters and the italian prosecco exporters will make sure that England has all the benefits of being inside for exports, and all the benefits of being outside for imports, because they are desperate and quaking in their boots. As simple as that. :-)

«the argument on cheap food & clothing»

Has little significance because even for poor families those are a small part of their costs, which are dominated by housing (mostly rend) and transport costs.
They go to food banks and charity shops to get cheap food and clothing not because they are so expensive, but because housing and transport costs leave them very little spare money, and that largely happens because most jobs are around the M25 area.

And again that argument anyhow depends on the pound not falling significantly and UK middle and low wages not shrinking in dollar terms.

Bill Posters

How many people in the UK would be unhappy with a Norway or Norway plus soft Brexit?

My guess only about million.

35 hard line Tory MPs
Handfull of Labour MPs
100,000 Tory Party members
30,000 UKip party members
A couple of hundred thousand of the Daily Mail readership.
A couple of hundred thousand Telegraph readers
A few hundred thousand asorted others.

What we could do is split the country. Former UK (Fuk) would be the Isle of Man or the Isle of White where all the hardline brexiters could move to. Majority Uk (Muk) would be the rest of the UK where we could have a soft Brexit.

Jobs a good'un.


@Bill Posters Or the Isle of Wight even. Actually, Isle of Whites is a fitting name as Newport High Street is filled every Saturday with elderly Brexiters (62%) tottering along with their zimmer frames.

DBC Reed

In my view the salient fact is that the Conservatives have gone so far with inflating land values that nobody can now afford to rent or buy a house.Having been the guardians of popular home-ownership post-war , they now realise they have no constructive policies in that regard and after the Referendum in fact dissolved, subsequently standing in their snap general election as UKIP REBORN and twice as nasty. But the electorate swung behind the Labour Party which was also reborn.
Peak land price was always a probability since Adam Smith proposed nationalising land price rises by a LVT in 1776 and the Conservatives came into being to make sure these rises stayed with the landowners.Several extensions of the franchise later and "all must have houses" have combined into a crisis in capitalism.
But not in a Marxist sense ,more a Henry George sense.
His Single Tax is a remedy(its the same as Adam Smith's LVT) but its the Tories who must clear up their own shit. Land values and property prices must come down but its the Tories who have to ship the massive electoral unpopularity of doing it.
They are running the Brexit campaign as dead cat strategy in the face of extinction.



So, once again, for clarity, should membership of the Customs Union mean continuing with Freedom of Movement and also mean we cannot negotiate separate free-trade agreements with non-EU nations?

Its all very well banging on about the Isle of White, but I'm unclear about what is being proposed here.


just to bang on about this because nothing seems to penetrate the pro-EU thinking about politics being solely about economics and economics being solely about GDP, the UK was pretty much alone in having positive GDP and wages going down. Hence, continued growth is no guarantee of workers actually getting better off.

So if remaining in The Customs Union means accepting FOM and not being able to negotiate trade deals outside the EU, then it would seem pretty clear that what is being offered is a continuation without end of the policies that have made most working people worse off.

George Carty


It is the Single Market that requires Freedom of Movement, not the Customs Union.

Bill Posters


It's the Isle of Wight not the Isle of White or Whites.

I made the same mistake earlier. I can only assume, like me, you went to a comprehensive.

Solving the economic and social problems of the UK is very difficult whether in or out of the EU. Brexit is no silver bullet. It's probably irrelevant.

I'm no fan of the EU and especially the EURO, but I voted remain. I fear a hard Brexit. I've seen big factories close and it's not pretty. The Government has the power to mitigate big economic changes, but they have never done so in my lifetime. Whether this is by design or through neglect I don't know.

A hard Brexit advocates big economic change in a conservative country that doesn't do change well and hasn't got a very effective Government.


«The Government has the power to mitigate big economic changes, but they have never done so in my lifetime.»

Oh they did: the government 10 year ago spent several hundreds of billions, some covertly, some overtly, to save the jobs of several dozen thousand very rich finance executive, traders, professionals, for exammple just for RBS:

“Rescuing it cost the U.K. Government £45bn, and RBS has lost a further £58bn since. Nearly ten years after the crisis, it is still in majority public ownership.”

And they are still supplying the finance industry with unlimited "liquidity" at 0.5% to speculate on assets and make keystroke-easy profits.

The big difference is that the government's relatives and best mates work in finance.


«nobody can now afford to rent or buy a house.»

But lots of people can still afford to rent a bed in a shared room, or a shift in a shared bed, which is pretty common in the south-east and London. Rookeries and doss-houses are nothing new.

«Having been the guardians of popular home-ownership»

More properly as you imply elsewhere of huge work-free tax-free (purely redistributive) profits on land.
Not many cherish ownership in itself, but many really love those profits.
The problem with the Conservatives is not just that eventually the debt-collateral spiral must eventually unwind, but that the big property profits have happened only in the south-east and London.

The problem with Labour is that New Labour was and wants to be the party of big property profits in the south-east and London too, and that the Labour wing of the Labour party has not tried to win the votes of property owners north of Watford whose interests are in better jobs and more infrastructure in their areas, that is for better income for workers in their areas.

N Howley

Chris, can I suggest that Labour's vagueness on the subject may not only be forgivable, but deliberate?

What would be the value of taking a stance on the customs union and being a guinea pig for that stance? If it turns out to be popular, there is nothing stopping the Tory party adapting it themselves and getting out of the current mess. If it bombs, the Tory party can stay well away from it.

By moving first Labour takes on the whole risk. It seems like a smarter move to wait, and not interrupt the Tories while they're in the middle of making a mistake.


«Labour's vagueness on the subject may not only be forgivable, but deliberate?»

Well duh! Tim Farron did exactly what Simon Wren-Lewis and Peter Mandelson so strongly argued that Labour should do, and the LibDem's no-vagueness "Remain" manifesto netted then most of the 48% votes of "Remainers", who gave the LibDems 400 seats in Parliament in June 2017, and Tim Farron as Prime Minister long ago withdrew the Article 50 notice. :-)

derrida derider

But Blissex, you can find comments on this very blog where people pointed out BEFORE the election the problem with the Lib-Dem's stance was that is was too equivocal to attract any of that 48%. When asked "do you support Brexit?" an answer of "well we'll think about another referendum about it" is hardly uncompromising. Farron made the mistake of trying to keep his core support (old geezers in the provinces) rather than trying to attract angry young voters (not to mention the City) that were there for the taking. His speeches should have been Jacobin, not Girondin. But of course the Lib-Dems have a long history of political misjudgement - its in their DNA, going back to Asquith.


Spot on - the evidence that a comparable manufacturing nation such as Germany can do so well on exports, both being in the EU and the Euro really shows up all the fantasies that UK issues can be solved by anything other than good leadership, investment in business and not housing, and an all out effort to improve skills and use UK's talents to the full. That 25% of UK adults have zero qualifications and 20% are functionally illiterate is truly damning.

Labour seem to have a bizarre idea that public ownership of public services is banned by the EU. Government subsidising of private services is but that is not the same thing.

Australia and N Zealand have full access to all these "cheap" sources. Their food prices are 40 % higher than UK's. Tariffs are not the be all and end all of prices. It is far more complicated than that. In any case the UK Government pockets the import tariffs.

Rees-Mogg has even more bizarre ideas that he is helping the poor by leaving the EU. The poor in UK pay the most on rent and mortgages - only 17% on food. A removal of the 4% tariff on footwear is not going to wipe out the extra living costs that the falling £ has caused to all imports which hits the poor the hardest. UK farmers are perfectly capable of supplying the UK dairy market if only the shop prices were to rise.

derrida derider

A bit reminiscent of the "this food is terrible at this restaurant", "yes, and the portions are so small" joke. If prices are so high that nobody can afford them, just who is paying those prices?

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