'We must get out of the protectionist EU and into the world' -- Kate Hoey writes for Business Insider

Jeff Spicer/Getty ImagesKate Hoey MP.
  • Labour Brexiteer Kate Hoey says leaving the European Union is a “great opportunity” for the left.
  • Writing for Business Insider, the MP for Vauxhall urges her Labour colleagues to ditch the “inward-looking, protectionist” EU and become a “truly internationalist party” again.
  • Hoey criticises Jeremy Corbyn’s “puzzling” decision to commit to a post-Brexit customs union with the EU.
  • A hard Brexit will make Britain more effective in tackling poverty worldwide, Hoey argues.

LONDON -In last year’s general election, the Labour Party manifesto stated in plain language: “Labour accepts the referendum result.” Standing on this pro-Brexit programme, Labour achieved its highest vote share since 2001 and its biggest swing since 1945.

A majority of the seats that Labour won from the Conservatives were in constituencies that are estimated to have voted Leave. For those of us who have long believed that “ever closer union” with the European Union has pulled Labour even further apart from our core voters, this result was a vindication.

As we move into the next stage of the Brexit negotiations, the Labour Party must understand that Brexit is not a disaster for the British left. It is a great opportunity.

To take full advantage of this opportunity, Labour MPs must rediscover the spirit of Clement Attlee. Attlee opposed the UK joining the Common Market, which he viewed as an inward-looking, protectionist club. Like Attlee, Labour MPs should embrace a UK that takes a strong stand in world affairs, working with the Commonwealth and our friends around the world to further social justice. It means becoming a truly internationalist party again.

The 2017 Labour manifesto was true to this spirit. The manifesto pledged: “We will build a close co-operative future relationship with the EU, not as members but as partners.” This is why it is so puzzling that the Labour leadership recently caved to pressure from the ardent Remainers and argued for some kind of customs union with the European Union.

Staying in a customs union with the EU would be a huge missed opportunity for a future Labour government.

Staying in a customs union would mean the UK’s trade policy is set by an external organisation, the EU, and with the UK having little or no influence. This would run counter to the 2017 manifesto because we would not be “partners” of the EU; we would be a vassal state, as Labour’s Shadow Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner warned.

Not even the EFTA countries, such as Norway, Iceland, or Switzerland, are in a customs union with the EU. They realise the absurdity in contracting out their trade policy to an external organisation.

Staying in a customs union with the EU would be a huge missed opportunity for a future Labour government. Whilst inside a customs union, we cannot use trade policy to achieve wider goals of social and international development.

Some of the most vocal opponents of the United Kingdom joining the Common Market in the first place came from the international development community. In 1970, Action for World Development – founded by Oxfam and Christian Aid – published a pamphlet entitled The White Tribes of Europe, which argued: “the present policies of the EEC are largely indifferent to the problems of world poverty and world development.”

Two pioneering female Labour MPs – Barbara Castle and Judith Hart – opposed Common Market membership on the grounds that European protectionism enriched Europe at the expense of the global poor. Barbara Castle lamented during the 1975 referendum, “the largest and poorest countries… are left out of this circle of privilege because their membership will not suit the trading interests of the European bloc… This isn’t the language of internationalism…It is euro-jingoism.”

Since the vote to leave in 2016, numerous countries around the world have excitedly welcomed the prospects of the United Kingdom being free to strike its own trade deals. In the post-Mugabe era, even Zimbabwe’s new President has welcomed Brexit as an ‘opportunity’ to repair links with the UK.

Kate HoeyJeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

A future Labour government, outside of the customs union, could pursue more humanitarian trade policies. We could use trade policy as a way of advancing development, rather than exploiting vulnerable economies. Jeremy Corbyn is an internationalist who has long been a champion for the poor in Latin America and Africa. So there is no logic in him deciding the UK should stay in some kind of protectionist club that has devastated the economies of some of the poorest countries in the world, especially in Africa.

In the 1960s, as a member of the House of Lords, Clement Attlee, delivered a vociferous argument about why Labour should not join the European Common Market. He told Parliament: “The idea of an integrated Europe is historically looking backward, and not forward…by all means, let us get the greatest possible agreement between the various continents, but I am afraid that if we join the Common Market we shall be joining not an outward-looking organisation, but an inward-looking organisation.”

It is by the spirit of Attlee that Labour should move forward. We must get out of the protectionist EU customs union and into the world! Labour needs to lead the way.

Kate Hoey is the Labour MP for Vauxhall and co-chair of Labour Leave.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.