Labour should back Canada+++

As support for the Prime Minister’s Chequers-based deal ebbs away, its future hangs in the balance.

Problems over assurances given by the government on the Irish border leaving the UK potentially unable to determine its own future; commitments to pay the EU £39bn with no certainty as to what will be received in return; demands by the EU for continuing fishing rights in UK waters; and uncertainty over what kind of trade deal might eventually be offered to the UK, have all payed their part.

If there is no majority in the Commons for the PM’s deal, however, there is no reason why we should then lurch towards the worst type of “no deal” scenario. Instead, there may well be an opportunity to turn what might look at first sight like a disaster to our – and the EU27’s – advantage. Far the best way of doing this would be to go back to Canada+++, which effectively got side-lined by the results of the 2017 general election.

This elected a Parliament which broadly – if reluctantly – accepted the result of the 2016 EU referendum but which wanted the UK to stay in the Single Market and perhaps the Customs Union too. We now know that this can’t be done on anything like reasonable terms, which is why the PM’s deal probably won’t be voted through.

Once it is clear that this is the case, however, Canada+++ starts looking a lot more attractive as the best way ahead. We know that the EU27 regard this approach favourably because both Donald Tusk and Michel Barnier have said so. From their perspectives, it has the big advantage of preserving the integrity and security of the Single Market and the Customs Union.

With a free-trade deal between the EU27, we would not have quite such a friction-free border as we do now with “free movement”, but it would be close, so there would be little, if any, trade disruption. On “just in time” deliveries, it is worth recalling that although 36% of the bought in components for the UK car industry come from the EU27, 21% come from outside the EU27, imported on WTO terms.

Canada+++ would clearly supply what the Leave side hoped would be the outcome of the 2016 referendum but it could also provide Remainers with much of what is important to them – almost friction-free trade and ample opportunity for co-operation with our European neighbours on all the many matters – from aviation to counter-terrorism – on which we have strong common interests.

Opening a new chapter in negotiations could also get us off the Irish border hook. No longer bound by the concessions made in December 2017 to get the trade talks going – which in crucial areas hasn’t happened – we could simply declare unilaterally that we would not have a hard border. Instead we would rely on the well-established AEO-based trusted trader system for large companies, combined with exemptions for small traders, to make the border work without any UK instigated hold-ups at the border itself.

Most Conservatives would always have been happy to go along with Canada+++. It is the Labour Party which has been much more ambivalent, with a significant proportion of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the party membership wanting us to stay in the EU. This is not what the referendum decided should be our future, however, and not what a large minority – perhaps even a majority – of traditional Labour supporters want to see happening.

Labour Remainers need to realise that there is no easy democratic way of reversing the referendum, no way of avoiding a long period of uncertainty if this option is chosen, and no guarantee that a decision to remain in the EU would be the outcome if it was tried. Even if it was, the result would leave the country deeply divided, a result which switching to Canada+++ might go a long way to avoid.

This might not be many Labour supporters’ first choice, but surely this would be a much better way ahead for the country than anything else which - realistically – is on offer at the moment.