In his landmark Brexit speech on Monday, Jeremy Corbyn announced that Labour would seek to keep Britain in a Customs Union with the EU after Brexit and, in doing so, be “internationalist”.
Yet Corbyn’s latest position on Brexit betrays the very spirit of internationalism that he and Labour claim to hold so dear.
In simple terms, remaining a member of any Customs Union would outsource our international trade policy to Brussels, despite no longer being part of the EU.
The upside of this option, supporters say, is that it would allow us capitalise on the free trade deals conducted by the EU.
But the downsides, however, far outweigh any benefits. In entering any Customs Union with the EU after Brexit - always assuming the EU would agree to such a thing in the first place - we would be unable to negotiate any bilateral trade deals with the rest of the world without the EU’s prior agreement. And not being a member of the EU, we would have no influence over their decision.
The aspiration of a Global Britain after Brexit will be dashed.
As a result of this, our trade with the wider world outside the EU will continue to be conducted on the EU’s terms. Thus, the needs of British industry will be at the mercy of French farmers, German manufacturers, Spanish fishermen and every other Tom. Dick and Harry member of the Customs Union.
Trade with the EU will of course remain vitally important after Brexit, but with at least 57% of our exports now going to countries outside the EU, it is imperative that we do everything we can to give British industry the competitive edge in the global market. And as we have seen, a number of large and powerful economies are keen to enter into free trade agreements with the UK, but are not keen to do so with the remaining 27 nations of the EU because of eastern Europe’s very low wage rates.
But there is also another, more unsavoury element to the existing Customs Union – it harms the developing world, particularly Africa.
It is designed in such a way that helps prop up European industries and producers of goods from outside the continent are met with punitive tariffs, stifling the growth of some of the world’s poorest nations.
There is no greater example of the negative impact of the Customs Union on the developing world than coffee.
Despite being home to some of the largest coffee producers in the world, the entire continent of Africa makes less money from its coffee production than Germany does from processing and re-exporting it.
When the British people voted for Brexit, they did not just vote to regain control of our borders. They also voted for the chance to shape our own global destiny.
Clearly Germany has the technological edge in many areas of food production, but EU tariffs on processed coffee effectively force African producers to export cheaper, unprocessed coffee, which richer European countries can then profit from.
Similarly punitive tariffs can also be found on other products, such as fruit and cocoa.
While this kind of protectionism may be in the interests of certain European countries, it benefits neither producers in the developing world nor consumers here in Britain who are forced to pay higher prices to subsidise continental European farmers.
The very basis of internationalism, the kind that Corbyn claims is at the heart of his political philosophy, means looking beyond one’s own borders and confronting the problems faced by countries less fortunate than our own.
Indeed, in his speech, Corbyn was right when he said: “We know that our interests are bound up with millions of others across the world”. Helping developing countries to grow their economies benefits us as well.
With this in mind, how can he reasonably claim to be motivated by internationalism while advocating a protectionist arrangement which damages producers across the developing world?
If we’re going to re-enter into any form of Customs Union with the EU, we may as well have not left the EU in the first place. And to those who cite Norway and Switzerland, they are part of the Single Market and must therefore accept free movement, but are not part of the Customs Union. Besides, Britain isn’t Norway with just four million people. The UK is one of the largest economies in the world with a population of around 70million and a major export market in its own right. The Prime Minister is right to say we can negotiate for a smart Brexit that is right for Britain.
When the British people voted for Brexit, they did not just vote to regain control of our borders. They also voted for the chance to shape our own global destiny. Denying us that right would be a scandalous betrayal of those who voted to leave the EU.
Only by breaking free from this and any future Customs Union can we open ourselves up to the wider world, a world we have for too long shunned in favour of the EU project. Anything else would be a betrayal of the EU referendum result.
And that, Mr Corbyn, is the true spirit of internationalism.
Michael Fabricant is the Conservative MP for Lichfield