Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn promised on Thursday to “get Brexit sorted” within six months of winning the general election, deliberately apeing Boris Johnson’s pledge to “get Brexit done”. But although the slogans are similar, the policies are very different.
The Labour manifesto commits Mr Corbyn to renegotiating Britain’s exit deal within three months, promising to keep the UK much more closely aligned with the EU on trade, the environment and workers’ rights.
Mr Corbyn claimed that once this “sensible” deal was negotiated, it would be “put to a legally binding referendum alongside the option of remaining in the EU”. This would be completed by next summer — a timetable regarded by experts as extremely ambitious.
The Labour party leader’s principal problem with Brexit — ruthlessly highlighted by Mr Johnson on nine occasions in this week’s televised leaders’ debate — is that he refuses to say whether he would campaign for Remain or Leave in such a referendum.
Mr Johnson’s policy has the advantage of clarity. He would get Brexit “done” by January 31, even if leaving the EU early in 2020 would only herald the start of long and complex trade negotiations with the 27 remaining members of the bloc.
The Labour leader’s promise to get the issue “sorted” hands the decision on Brexit back to the people, leaving doubt over Britain’s future membership of the EU — and where exactly Mr Corbyn stands on the biggest issue of the day.
The manifesto sets out the “sensible” Brexit deal Mr Corbyn would seek to negotiate with the EU: it would represent a far closer economic and political partnership than that proposed by Mr Johnson and would be broadly acceptable to the EU27.
Crucially, it would see Britain remain part of the EU customs union — with the country benefiting from, but having no legal say over, trade deals negotiated by Brussels with countries around the world.
There would be “close alignment” with single market rules to avoid regulatory checks at the border, with Britain staying within EU agencies. Britain would remain aligned with the EU on workers’ rights, the environment and consumer protection.
Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King’s College London, said Mr Corbyn’s policy was “not barking mad” and he should make more of a virtue of it in the campaign. “He’s offering the country a close relationship with the EU or Remain,” he said.
But Brandon Lewis, Home Office minister, said Mr Corbyn’s inability to say whether he would campaign for his own proposed exit deal meant that he effectively “had no plan for Brexit”.
Meanwhile the manifesto watered down a party conference vote for an extension of free movement. The document instead refers only to granting EU nationals who are already in the UK the right to continue living and working in the country after Brexit.
Instead of any kind of concrete regime for EU citizens wanting to come to the UK after Brexit, the manifesto talks about the benefits of freedom of movement: “Our public services and our industry have benefited from workers coming here.”
Meanwhile, Labour’s manifesto is arguably the most pacifist of any major UK political party in modern times.
Mr Corbyn’s party calls for an end to the “bomb first, talk later” policy which, in its view, has scarred previous UK diplomacy. The manifesto states that “Britain deserves better” than “the outsourcing of UK foreign policy to US president Donald Trump”.
On nuclear weapons, one of the most sensitive parts of Labour policy, the document declares that it “supports the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent”.
However, the manifesto makes no other comment in support of the deterrent, other than to say that Labour would “actively lead multilateral efforts . . . to create a nuclear-free world”.
The manifesto states that a Corbyn government would immediately suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen and to Israel. A Labour government would immediately recognise the state of Palestine.
However, much of the section on “effective diplomacy” is heavily focused on investigating and correcting alleged injustices by previous UK governments over the past century or longer.
Labour would establish a judge-led inquiry into the UK’s alleged complicity in rendition and torture. It would “conduct an audit of the impact of Britain’s colonial legacy”.
A Labour government would also issue a formal apology for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919 in which the British Indian Army killed at least 400 people.