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Corbyn Changed The Narrative On The Economy - Now He Must Do The Same For Free Movement

29/06/2017 15:56 BST | Updated 30/06/2017 09:32 BST
Peter Nicholls / Reuters

The General Election has massively strengthened Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, in sharp contrast to the Tories who have a party leader without an iota of authority and runners and riders plotting who will take over. Frankly, who is at the Tory helm doesn't much matter after the spectacle of Tory MPs cheering at the defeat of Labour's amendment to the Queen's Speech which would have lifted a pay cap for millions of workers. The Tory benches looked what they are, as out of touch as Marie Antoinette when she said of the starving, "Let them eat cake."

HuffPost's Paul Waugh wrote in his Waugh Zone briefing Thursday morning that it looked like the Tories were cheering another slap in the face of firefighters, police and nurses. He is right. And our people are fed up of turning the other cheek. Following Grenfell, the terrorist attacks which laid bare the gaping holes in national security strategies left by Theresa May's huge cuts to police numbers coupled with their reluctance to relinquish austerity politics, the Tories are sliding towards oblivion. They have no mandate for any policy process, let alone the negotiating of Brexit.

Labour's top priorities during Brexit negotiations are our jobs, our economy and our prosperity. We are crystal clear about wanting tariff-free access to the Single Market and no new non-tariff burdens for businesses. We are also saying that the exact mechanisms for securing this are far less important than ensuring that our jobs, our economy and our living standards are protected rather than damaged by Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn's recent Glastonbury appearance was inspiring. Tens of thousands cheered as he called out the anti-Trump slogan, "build bridges, not walls." We should now adopt that slogan as a the guiding principle at the heart of Labour's Brexit strategy. And with political landscape transformed by the General Election, the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour government at the helm of Brexit negotiations looks increasingly likely.

As a government-in-waiting, now is the right time for us to offer the hope of a People's Brexit. Our country's relationship with Europe, and the futures of the legions of newly politicised young people, rely on it. They also want to retain free movement. TSSA policy is to support them. Our union held its 120th Annual Delegate Conference in Liverpool earlier this week where we reaffirmed, almost unanimously, our members' desire for free movement to continue post-Brexit.

Labour currently says that this will end when we depart the European Union but, without it, our other aspirations look almost impossible to realise. Switzerland has tariff-free access to the Single Market but recently tried to limit free movement by seeking to introduce immigration quotas for EU nationals. Brussels said no. Free movement remains as the Swiss government came to its senses. In the end, it choose not to inflict economic self-harm by choosing tariff-free access to the single market over restricting EU immigration. Britain is almost certain to face the same dilemma.

Just like Jeremy Corbyn, TSSA is committed to building bridges not walls. We have members across the island of Ireland and erecting a hard border - in effect a wall between north and south - is unthinkably dangerous. The peace process will be put at peril. We must not play politics with a hard won, but still fragile, new dawn for Ireland.

Our conference agreed what a People's Brexit looks like for us. Much of it is already expressed in Labour's excellent 2017 manifesto. We support improving the lot of working people across Britain without conducting a witch hunt of migrants and have opted instead to support policies of hope such as £10 minimum wage and a charter of workers rights. Perhaps most importantly, instituting sectoral collective bargaining which will see an agreed rate for every job whether you come from Bristol or Gdansk.

Many within Labour are signalling they favour an arrangement similar to those reached with countries who are either members of the European Economic Area or European Free Trade Association. Our Conference rejected this. Our view is that a free trade agreement whereby the EU dictates the terms and we don't even get a voice, is the worst of both worlds. The Norwegian government has characterised membership of the EEA as 'taxation without representation'.

TSSA is opposed to such an undemocratic arrangement in the very same way that we are against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). A Labour government could negotiate something entirely different. It could prioritise future access to the single market to which we already belong by not removing our voice from the shaping of it. Pursuit of EEA or EFTA-style deals mean Brussels continuing to make the rules without us having a say. We will be jumping from frying pan to fire by exiting the EU, but leaving the European Commission in charge of decision-making with no UK input or right of veto on key issues. This is an unnecessary and avoidable end-game.

I want a reformed People's Europe but we can't achieve this by pursuing a deal which leaves us without a voice and far less power than we already have. If this is the choice on offer, TSSA favours staying within the EU. At conference, our delegates rightly expressed their growing concerns that unless a different Brexit plan emerges soon, we we are heading towards a neoliberal free-market trade arrangement and an even greater democratic deficit. John Maynard Keynes wisely remarked that when the facts change, I change my mind. Last year when we debated whether we should stay or leave the EU around 25% of our delegates said they favoured Brexit. This year, you could count on one hand those who now favour leaving with either no deal or an EEA/EFTA type of arrangement. Retaining our EU membership is our union's preferred choice rather than any of the deals which currently appear possible.

Theresa May is a zombie Prime Minister at the head of a discredited government. The Tories are a laughing stock. The General Election dealt Labour an incredibly strong Brexit hand and they must make full use of it. The millions of young people galvanised into campaigning and voting for our Jeremy Corbyn mostly want to remain within the EU. They have no problem with free movement. The tens of thousands of voices singing "Oh! Jeremy Corbyn" from the Glastonbury fields don't want their futures jeopardised by deluded notions of the greatness of a bygone and bloody, imperial British era. They are refusing to dance to Ukip's or the Tories' xenophobic tune.

Let's have the courage to detoxify the rubbish said about free movement by many in our media. Just like Jeremy Corbyn has successfully changed the narrative about our economy, I have every confidence he can do the same for free movement. Let Labour spread across our country a "build bridges, not walls" mantra. The problems our people face stem from Thatcher's economic settlement and laws made in Westminster. Exploitative bosses, taking advantage of cheaper workers from abroad only happens because successive British governments have deregulated our labour market to enable employers to make even greater profits at our expense.

An incoming Labour government will end this scandal by implementing measures such as a living wage and sectoral collective bargaining. Let's now focus the Brexit debate on taking back control of our economy for the many rather than fall into the trap of giving up our seat at the EU top table in exchange for a virulent undemocratic free-market trade deal. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water and instead work with socialist parties across Europe to help shape a People's Europe in which we build bridges and tear down walls. As a government-in-waiting it falls to Labour to show another Brexit world is possible: no Brexit at all!

Manuel Cortes is general secretary of the TSSA