Theresa May’s Strategy: “A Trump Brexit?”
Peter Hain, the British Labour MP and former Welsh Secretary, has said that he will impose changes on the Brexit bill when it reaches the House of Lords today, at 4.15 pm (UK time). There will be two days of debate on Monday and Tuesday this week, while next week the amendments to the bill will be considered. Hain is demanding that the UK stays in the single market and keeps its open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. His comments came after his former Labour cabinet colleague, Peter Mandelson, said that he hopes the “House of Lords will not throw in the towel early,” warning against a “Brexit at all costs.”
Peter Hain warns against a “Trump Brexit”
Peter Hain has served as an MP for Neath between 1991 and 2015, was the leader of the House of Commons between 2003 and 2005, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 2005 to 2007, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Secretary of State for Wales from 2007 to 2008. He has argued that most Labour MPs voted Remain and that this shouldn’t be ignored. He is planning to criticise Theresa May for not representing the 48% of Remainers and to warn her that her Brexit plan would possibly lead to a “Trump Brexit” that will turn the UK into a low tax haven.
The idea of Britain as a bargain basement tax haven within Europe was May’s negotiating threat to the 27 EU countries. But such a strategic move will also threaten British living standards and jobs. Last month, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had criticised May after her Brexit speech implication that the UK would adopt a low-tax economic model if EU leaders punished it during the Brexit negotiations. Since she had said she will leave the single market, but retain access to it, she has used Brexit as a threat to EU leaders, something which the Labour party sees as “reckless.” As Corbyn said, “I am not quite sure how that is going to go down in Europe ... She seems to be wanting to have her cake and eat it.”
Hain believes that “Cutting us off from our biggest market, where nearly half our trade is done, will have devastating consequences for the economy, for jobs and for millions of individual citizens’ lives. We now learn that if we cannot get the EU trade deal we want, the Government threatens, in a ‘Trump Brexit’, to make Britain a low tax ‘haven’ with lower labour and environmental regulation, in an attempt to attract foreign firms once we have left the EU.” But Hain is aware that such a politics will decimate the economy and social life. It will involve cuts in public services, inequality and it will damage the poorest and weakest members of society.
Hain feels that many would question his position: “Critics say ‘what right have I, an unelected peer, to oppose this Bill or even to seek radically to amend it?’” But he feels he needs to represent that part of the Labour party that wanted to remain within the EU: “I was appointed by my party. And in the referendum, two thirds of Labour electors voted to Remain. That’s what I am reflecting, that’s my mandate.” This is important for Hain because Brexit needs to be a fair exit strategy among equals. He added: “Especially as the Prime Minister is behaving as if she only represents the 52% of citizens who voted Leave. I don’t deny they won, or that the outcome has to be respected. But what about the 48% who voted Remain?... If the Prime Minister were really acting in the national interest, she would be representing them too. She would be pursuing a ‘one nation Brexit’ not a partisan hard, right wing Brexit.”
In a similar tone, Labour party’s Peter Mandelson, urged pro-EU politicians to be more courageous. Talking to BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, he said that the Government might lose in regards to issues involving EU nationals and how Parliament votes on the final Brexit bill. He said: “I think there’s a strong body of opinion, across party and amongst the independent peers as well, that both these issues are very serious.”
House of Lords
Obviously, Mandelson is right. A coalition of Labour, Liberal Democrat, crossbench and some Conservative peers will demand amendments to the bill, but they are not seeking to upset Theresa May’s timetable for triggering article 50. One of the important amendments concerns the status of EU nationals—which was rejected in the Commons— and handing parliament a “meaningful vote” on the deal. This is believed that it will be passed in the House of Lords. As Dick Newby, the leader of Liberal Democrat peers said, “There is a big difference between getting an amendment and blocking it. The track record of the House of Lords getting amendments passed is pretty good.” Talking to 500 EU citizens in Westminster, Lord Newby also added that: “There is a very high likelihood that an amendment that will guarantee your rights will pass in the House of Lords,” he said. “That’s the good news, then it goes to the House of Commons, I suspect on 13 May.”
But in the end of the day, what is very important for the government is to overcome Theresa May’s “take it or leave it” attitude and engage with parliament in a more deep and meaningful way. As the opposition leader in the House of Lords, Lady Smith said, a meaningful vote means: “A vote before the European parliament votes, and for parliament to have a say in that final deal. Not just take it or leave it.” She also said that if Ukip is now saying that they didn’t expect the status of EU nationals to be questioned, then the government can say the same thing, too. It’s the only “moral” and “pragmatic” decision that can go into the negotiations, she said.