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Corbyn and the Single Market

“I vote against the Maastricht treaty again tonight, primarily because it takes away from national Parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers who will impose the economic policies of price stability, deflation and high unemployment throughout the European Community.” 

These were the words of Jeremy Corbyn in the 1993 parliamentary debate on the Maastricht Treaty. Some may see his words as prescient with youth unemployment still at 24% in France, 35% in Italy, 41% in Spain and 45% in Greece. (source: Statista)

The Maastricht vote was ten years after Corbyn was first elected as an MP. At the 1983 election he campaigned vigorously for the Labour Party manifesto commitment to leave the EEC. The party manifesto argued that the EEC was a clear obstacle to the implementation of the radical socialist policies which the then leader Michael Foot proposed.

It has long been the view of the radical left, such as Tony Benn and Corbyn, that the EU and its institutions including the European Central Bank and the European Court of Justice are designed to be beyond the reach of democratic accountability and to support the needs of global companies in a capitalist market. This is not to say that don’t care about human rights but that the needs of companies come first.

The left would quote many instances where the ECJ has ruled against worker collective agreements and imposed limits on strike action by unions. For example, in a case with Lewisham Council they ruled that trade union collective agreements incorporated into the contracts of employees should not be protected when the service was privatised and transferred.

They would also quote cases where the ECJ has protected the rights of companies to transfer work to lower cost European locations and impose the conditions of a cheaper jurisdiction, such as the Viking case. In this case the ECJ also ruled the right to strike could infringe a business's freedom of establishment under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union article 49.

Corbyn does recognise the benefits of trade agreements and single market tariff free access and has argued strongly for access to the single market. However, radical left politicians such as Corbyn do not want to be part of the single market. They are critical of single market rules to force ‘open public procurement' and competitive tendering within the EU. These rules are enshrined in the EU's Lisbon Treaty, and promote privatisation in public services. It has also been argued that the First Railway Directive which promotes 'liberalisation' and competition for railway and freight services in the EU, would prevent Corbyn renationalising the railways.

Corbyn’s proposals for more state intervention and to protect fledgling businesses would also test single market rules and may, or may not, be allowed by the ECJ.

Corbyn would recognise the importance of the single market rules in protecting health and safety through common standards and workers rights. However, many on the left would argue that these rights, including maternity rights, were won by workers and unions, and many existed prior to the EU. While many are fearful that a Tory government would reduce workers rights outside the single market Corbyn would look to go further.

Corbyn remains very critical of the EU’s austerity policies, as he was in 1993, and would cite evidence that these austerity policies increase inequality by redistributing wealth from workers to asset owners. This evidence points to significant increases in the wealth of the elite while the poor get poorer, which appears self-evident.

Finally, Corbyn is aligning himself with working people. The detailed polling by Lord ashcroft shows that the majority (64%) of working class C2,D and E voters in the referendum voted to leave. Only in the AB social group of professionals and managers was there a majority who voted to Remain.

For all of these reasons it seems likely that Corbyn will continue to call for access to the single market but not to be part of it.