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The 2017 General Election is nearly upon us – the third national vote in two years. While the electorate may be fatigued by this latest round of politicking, we should not lose sight of the fact that this election matters a great deal for one reason – Brexit.
After all, it is likely to give a mandate to the next government to set the tone for the UK’s negotiating strategy in a deal which is going to define our relationship with the EU – politically, economically, socially – for decades to come.
With this in mind, we have examined what the three major parties have to say, specifically, about Brexit in their election Manifestos. There are significant differences in their approach and so the British electorate has been given a real choice to make.
In preparing what follows, we have not been partisan – rather we have focused the same critical eye on all the parties’ Manifestos.
“Brexit will define us: our place in the world, our economic security and our future prosperity...with this plan and with a strong hand through Brexit, we will build a stronger fairer, more prosperous Britain” – Theresa May.
The Conservatives' Manifesto is not a surprise. That is because it was foreshadowed by the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech and the Brexit White Paper. The tone struck is a confident one – we are told the PM will give the “strong and stable leadership” that is required to secure a “smooth, orderly Brexit”.
There has been little elaboration on the general positions they have thus far adopted, and with which we have been familiar for some time now. So, for example:
Such bold statements as to what “will” happen do not seem to indicate much engagement with the warnings that have come from the EU’s negotiators, and EU Premiers, namely that Brexit is a collaborative exercise and not something which can be unilaterally driven by the UK Government, no matter how strong or stable it may be.
The Manifesto also suggests that the exit deal, and the new partnership, should be concluded within the Article 50 window. This appears to run contrary to the EU’s stated position in this respect.
The Manifesto confirms: “we continue to believe that no deal is better than a bad deal for the UK.” Many commentators may disagree and may not be attracted by the brinkmanship that may see the UK revert to WTO rules, with potentially negative consequences.
So not necessarily a Manifesto for polite after dinner conversation with European friends...
“Where the Liberal Democrats are fighting every step of the way, Labour is holding Theresa May’s hand as she jumps off the cliff edge of a hard Brexit...You might worry that jobs and living standards are threatened by the extreme and divisive Brexit that Theresa May has chosen for Britain” – Tim Farron.
The Liberal Democrats’ Manifesto pulls no punches when it comes to its assessment of the Conservatives’ approach to Brexit or the Liberal Democrats’ view that a hard Brexit would be disastrous for the UK. We cannot yet say whether hindsight will prove them to be the Cassandra of our times.
Their Manifesto appears to advocate a narrow interpretation of Brexit, and to include an option to reject Brexit altogether. The final deal would be put to a second referendum, and the UK would have a chance to remain in the EU after all. This, they say, reflects the fact that the first referendum did not give a mandate for a hard Brexit, and is consistent with their belief that, “Britain is better off in the EU.”
The obvious objection to that position is that it could encourage EU countries (assuming they would want the UK to stay) to adopt intransigent and unreasonable positions in the hope that the punishing economic realities would change the mind of the British people. Is that the case though?
The Liberal Democrats would appear to favour something akin to a ‘Norway’ model. For example:
This approach would seem to respect the first referendum, as we would still leave the EU. However, arguably, it would give the EU something they could more easily marshal the 27 countries behind, rather than having a stark in/out position. The Brexiteers would of course still have a chance of winning that second plebiscite.
“Britain needs to negotiate a Brexit deal that puts our economy and living standards first...So yes, this election is about what sort of country we want to be after Brexit. Is it one where the majority are held back by the sheer struggle of getting by? That isn’t the Britain Labour is determined to create” - Jeremy Corbyn
The Labour Manifesto rejects the Conservative Manifesto’s “harder” position – in particular their “no deal” approach and the economic “cliff edge”. However, it does not go as far as the Liberal Democrats’ Manifesto in opposing hard Brexit. For example, some highlights:
This Manifesto is more middle of the road than the other two. That begs the question whether the Labour Party has correctly judged the national mood, and set out a nuanced course for a successful Brexit, or whether it simply lacks the coherence of thought, and precision of vision, of the other two parties...
We will find out when the results are in.
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