Labour right-winger Chuka Umunna is using European issues as a device for self-promotion and to bash Corbyn, but on the Single Market he is right.
It will be abject if Labour ends up using its votes in the Commons to save the Tory government on a possible pro-Single-Market amendment which will be debated in the House of Lords on 8 May and may be backed by enough Tory rebels to defeat May unless Labour gives her its votes.
The Single Market means free movement of workers and free movement of trade, through a more-or-less common set of regulations, across Europe. There are Single Market rules which the labour movements of Europe, acting together, should seek to change, but the basic scheme of the Single Market is better than barriers, customs posts, and barbed-wire fences separating the peoples of Europe.
Umunna is most concerned for free movement of trade, and smooth supply chains for bosses based in Britain. In fact, he and his co-thinkers are anxious to explain that there are tricks and tweaks which could be used to limit free movement of workers even inside the Single Market.
For us as socialists, on the contrary, freedom of movement for people, and the easing of workers’ unity across borders, is the chief principle. We prefer, of course, to have smooth supply chains for factories rather than blocked-up ones, but for us that is secondary.
The Labour leaders’ position is evasive. The 2017 Labour manifesto called for “a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union”. To this day no-one has explained what cunning scheme they might have to get the benefits of the Single Market... other than the Single Market itself, with of course due amendment.
It’s as if someone tells you that they want the benefits of taking the bus to work, but by mysterious scheme other than the actual bus.
Labour has shifted a bit from the 2017 manifesto on the Customs Union, on which the Tories are also in trouble. Now Labour says that it wants Britain to remain in the Customs Union (or at least “a” Customs Union, but it is hardly likely that one separate from the Union evolved over decades in Europe will pop up).
Scared of the reaction from pro-Brexit voters, Labour said flatly in the 2017 manifesto that “freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union”. Labour comments in the wake of Windrush have softened that nasty statement, but not reversed.
As the Tories get deeper into trouble, socialists should work on rewinding and redressing Labour’s stance, starting with freedom of movement.