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Brexit: Progressives Must Work Together to Reform and Remain in the EU

The Withdrawal Agreement hashed out between Theresa May and the European Union will be roundly defeated at tonight’s vote. The National Health Action Party cannot predict what will happen next – no one can.

However, we have made our position on Brexit clear. We believe the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union and seek to reform it. The European Union is not perfect. It is in need of further democratisation. The austerity politics of the Union since 2007 have been unduly strict. However, this does not mean that the causes of Brexit can be lain at the door of the EU. It is both this current - and past - Conservative government and its imposition of ideologically driven austerity measures (many of which would never have been mandated by the EU) that has brought the country to this cliff edge. Reforming the European Union can be achieved. Whereas Brexit is merely a means to avoid rising to this challenge.

Jeremy Corbyn – in line with Labour Party policy – has made clear that the Labour Party will be seeking a no confidence vote against the Prime Minister and then to push for a general election. Jeremy Corbyn has also made it clear that the Labour Party would then seek to renegotiate a Customs Union with the European Union that exempted the UK from many EU rules on state aid and procurement.

The National Health Action Party does not disagree with Labour on the need for our economy to be radically transformed in order for it to work for everyone in the UK, and not just the South East of England and London. The building of new, high tech, green industries and the revitalisation of our manufacturing sector is a vital task for the years ahead. Where we differ from the Labour Party is that we know – in the spirit of real politik – that the EU cannot agree to Labour’s demands on state aid and procurement.

There are only two options open to Labour in regard to extricating the UK from the EU’s rules on state aid, which are, although many may not know this, far stricter than the World Trade Organisation’s. The first is a hard-Brexit trading on WTO terms. We know that the Labour Party and the majority of MPs within the House of Commons would never support this – and rightly so. Therefore, the second option of remaining and reforming is the only one left on the table – why?

Because the EU has a shown, time and time again in its trade negotiations with other countries that the closer a country wishes to integrate itself with the EU – a la Ukraine – the more it will have to necessarily adopt EU rules on state aid and procurement. The EU cannot, and will not, allow the UK to remain in the customs union whilst engaging in state aid practices in industries - such as the automobile industry - which could negatively affect other member states. It is for this very reason that state aid rules exists, and it is for this very reason why Labour’s Brexit stance is not a serious option.

The most cursory glance of the Withdrawal Agreement clearly shows that the EU would prefer a Theresa May led government which has already agreed to adopt current and future EU state aid rules from a “common rulebook”, than a Corbyn led government which would engage in extensive state aid practices outside of the strictures of the Single Market, whilst enjoying all the benefits that come with being a member of the Customs Union. Some progressives, such as Tom Kibasi - Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research – deserve credit for having begun to call out the falsehoods propelling what some are now calling “Lexit”.

Setting aside the unrealistic nature of Labour’s Brexit policy, there are further reasons why Progressives – and the Labour Party in particular - should fight for remain and reform - with the reform of EU rules on state aid being at the top of the agenda.

The first comes down to the fact that the UK has far more power inside the EU than it does outside of it. Progressive forces in Europe such as Podemos in Spain, La France Insoumise in France and Bloco de Esquerda in Portugal - to name but a few - have pledged to seek the reform of EU rules on state aid and fiscal policy. They would be invaluable allies for any future progressive government in the UK.

Finally, there is the irrefutable fact that the UK has historically simply not used the state aid rules currently open to it as an EU member. These exemptions on EU state aid rules allow the government to intervene and/or support businesses and sectors such as; small and medium sized enterprises; research, development and innovation; employment and training; employment and training directed towards those with disabilities; infrastructure; regional aid; culture and heritage conservation and environmental protection. The UK has room to manoeuvre which it simply has not used; in 2016 the UK spent 0.36% of GDP on state aid whereas Germany spent 1.31% and France 0.65%.

The National Health Action Party believes that the European Union can be reformed. We believe that the UK’s economy can be reformed, and we believe that both of these goals can be achieved inside the European Union working in collaboration with our European partners. The National Health Action Party will continue to fight for a final say on Brexit – in light of all the facts – via a second referendum and we will go into any forthcoming election on that basis.

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