Taking Britain out of the Single Market will significantly lower living standards and lose jobs. This can already be seen as inflation from the devaluation of the pound after the Brexit referendum, and worsened after May’s threat to leave the Single Market, begins to gather pace. This attack on living standards will deepen further during 2017. Meanwhile there will be reductions in a wide range of jobs, ranging from car workers to ordinary employees in banks and taking in many others between, as investment will fall as there will be no access to the Single Market. The threat to car workers jobs is already clear. If the current Bill is not substantially amended then Labour should oppose it, and vote it down on its third and final reading.
Labour has long held the position that it would not give the Tories a blank cheque and that it would oppose any agreement which lowered living standards, undermined workers’ rights or eroded environmental protections, and so on. Parliament has not had the opportunity to decided on the negotiating framework, so the current Article 50 Bill is precisely such a blank cheque.
Tactically Labour is fully justified in arguing that without an amendment on remaining in the Single Market, and the amendment on having a substantial vote in parliament on the final deal, it means it will be extremely difficult to prevent the Tory government adopting the worst of all possible outcomes.
Theresa May has already threatened that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. An unamended Bill leaves the road open to no deal at all, stumbling out of the Single Market and falling back on WTO tariff rules, which is the worst conceivable outcome.
Many in Labour are worried about the forthcoming by-elections in Stoke and Copeland, constituencies which both voted to Leave. These are important battles for Labour to win and to maintain support for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. So Labour needs to clearly explain that it will not give the Tories a blank cheque to lower peoples living standards and that amendments to protect people's jobs have to be agreed before Labour will vote through Article 50.
There is no clear evidence that if Labour withholds its support from Article 50 till jobs and living standards are protected that this will harm it electorally. In fact the Lib Dems have won a series of council by-elections, many of them in strongly vote Leave areas. In any event, Labour has to stand up for people's wages, living standards, public services and the environment.
The Labour party should pull out all the stops in the two by-election campaigns, and explain the damage that leaving the Single Market will cause to local jobs. The approach should be to oppose the Tories, oppose a hard Brexit and defend Jeremy Corbyn.