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The 2019 Party Election Manifestos and the European Union

Introduction

This is a summary, without any analysis, of the statements on the EU in the manifestos of the Great Britain political parties (who have seats in the House of Commons) for the general election on 12 December 2019.  It is presented in alphabetical order.

 

Conservative Party

Prime Minister’s introduction

Entitled Get Brexit done the manifesto opens with an introduction by the Prime Minister. 1  In it he says: “We have been paralysed by a broken Parliament that simply refuses to deliver Brexit”, which is why the election needed to be held.  Getting Brexit done would end the “division and deadlock” in British politics, end the uncertainty for business and it would release “a pent-up tidal wave of investment into our country”.

Later in his introduction Johnson says: “After three and a half years of procrastination, we have a great new deal that is ready to go – so that we will be finally out of the EU by January 31”.

He lists some of the advantages of leaving the EU: “From freeports to free trade deals, from abolishing the cruel live shipment of animals to cutting VAT on tampons, we in the UK will be able to remain close to our European friends and partners; but where we choose, we will be able to do things differently and better”.

 

‘Get Brexit Done’

The major part of the manifesto dealing with EU matters is the first chapter under this title.  The main pledges are:

  • “we will start putting our deal through Parliament before Christmas and we will leave the European Union in January”;
  • the deal negotiated by the Johnson government, “takes the whole country out of the EU as one United Kingdom”, including out of the customs union, “allowing us to set our own tariffs and do our own trade deals”;
  • the future relationship between the UK and the EU will be an agreement with the EU, “based on free trade and friendly cooperation, not on the EU’s treaties or EU law. There will be no political alignment with the EU”;
  • in particular, the UK will be out “of the single market, out of any form of customs union” and there would be no role for the European Court of Justice;
  • later in the manifesto the party says that it aims to have 80 per cent of UK trade covered by free trade agreements in three years, starting with the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.  “These will be negotiated in parallel with our EU deal”.

On the negotiations with the EU in 2020, the manifesto promises that the party:

  • “will negotiate a trade agreement next year – one that will strengthen our Union”;
  • they will “not extend the implementation period beyond December 2020”;
  • they will legislate “to ensure high standards of workers’ rights, environmental protection and consumer rights” would be introduced in parallel to the trade negotiations.

In other policies related to Brexit, the manifesto pledges:

  • the introduction of an “Australian-style points based immigration system”;
  • higher standards in areas such as workers’ rights, animal welfare, agriculture and the environment;
  • and to “ensure we are in full control of our fishing waters”;
  • to “collaborate internationally and with the EU on scientific research, including Horizon”;
  • moving from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to a system of agricultural support based on “public money for public goods”, with a promise that they will pay “the current annual budget to farmers in every year of the next Parliament”.  In addition, the party that it will encourage the public sector to buy British after Brexit and it will increase the pilot quota of 2,500 people in the seasonal workers scheme to 10,000 a year;
  • an Environment Bill to guarantee environmental standards with an Office for Environmental Protection;
  • on animal welfare the party promises to “end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening”;
  • a UK Prosperity Fund will replace EU structural funds in the UK and at a “minimum match the size of those funds in each nation.”

 

Green Party

Beginning with the statement, “we are a proudly pro-European party and are unequivocally campaigning for Britain to Remain in the EU”, the party sets out its position on the EU in a chapter entitled ‘Remain and Transform’.2

The manifesto re-affirms the party’s commitment to a People’s Vote on the final terms of any Brexit deal with Remain also on the ballot paper.  It continues: “The place that we’ve been brought to by the outcome of the Brexit referendum is difficult, dangerous and divisive.  Democracy and truth are under attack, and the real agenda of those pulling the populist strings is widespread chaos in which discord will thrive”.

It is time, the manifesto says “to choose what kind of country we want to be and to rediscover the hopes and dreams that will unite us”.  Describing the referendum as a “radical rejection of a status quo that is intolerable for huge numbers of people in this country”, the manifesto says that “the social contract is broken and the power game is rigged”.  They recognise what they see as the reasons why many people voted for Brexit: “hollowed out communities, power centralised at Westminster, local economies starved of investment, run down public services and jobs without dignity”.

Promising to play a leading role in a pro-European movement in this country, it says it wants a pathway to a society that is “genuinely fair, green and fulfilling”.  They would work with those in other parties and whatever the outcome on Brexit, would seek to protect the rights of EU citizens and their families living in the UK.

The manifesto has a detailed list of pledges as part of their commitment, with other Green parties in Europe, to transform the EU.  These pledges include:

  • allowing MEPs to initiate EU legislation;
  • increasing transparency in EU institutions, including the European Central Bank;
  • making the positions taken by Member States in the European Council public;
  • campaigning to base EU institutions in Brussels, ending the Parliament sitting in Strasbourg;
  • championing reform of the CAP to include more sustainable farming methods;
  • reviewing the Common Fisheries Policy to increase its sustainability.

The party also commits to a series of policies that improve cross border co-operation:

  • bringing together national “green deals”;
  • tackling tax avoidance;
  • harmonising minimum environmental standards;
  • enforcing social rights for citizens;
  • reducing migration in the long-term by correcting imbalances including EU-wide minimum income, an EU-wide minimum wage and fiscal transfers via the Euro.

 

The Labour Party

In a chapter entitled ‘The Final Say on Brexit’ the party commits to giving the public “the final say on Brexit” in a legally binding referendum.  The party says that they will “secure a sensible deal” with the EU within three months of coming to power and then within six months, “we will put that deal to a public vote alongside the option to remain”.3

Explaining the party’s position, the manifesto says that the “Tories have failed for three years to get Brexit sorted, in a shambles of repeated delays and uncertainty”.  However people voted in 2016, they “are crying out for politicians in Westminster to finally focus on the wider challenges we face”.  The party rules out preparations for a no-deal Brexit: “No deal has never been a viable option.  It would do enormous harm to jobs, rights, security and to our NHS”.  It goes on to say that a “majority Tory government would pose a renewed threat of the UK crashing out with no deal” and only a Labour government could prevent this.

The manifesto says that Labour opposes Johnson’s deal because it would “do such harm to workers’ rights, environmental protections and to our manufacturing industry”.  Saying that the Johnson deal is “even worse” than that of Theresa May, it argues that it would “leave the UK £70 billion worse off by 2029”; give the “green light to deregulation” undermining UK manufacturing; and leave our NHS “at the mercy of a trade deal with Donald Trump”.

In terms of the new Brexit deal it will negotiate with the EU, Labour promises:

  • a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union;
  • close alignment with the Single Market to ensure “a strong future economic relationship with the EU that can support UK businesses”;
  • “dynamic alignment on workers’ rights, consumer rights and environmental protections so that UK standards keep pace across Europe as a minimum”;
  • continued participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, including in the environment, scientific research and culture;
  • commitments on future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant and shared databases.

Labour says they will secure a revised Withdrawal Agreement that would include:

  • legal protection for citizens’ rights;
  • meets our international obligations – particularly with regard to the Good Friday Agreement;
  • ensures an “appropriate transition period” to allow businesses and citizens to adapt to any new arrangements;
  • “robust and legally binding protections for workers’ rights, consumer standards and environmental protections”; and
  • ensure “level-playing field protections are maintained”.

The manifesto then explains how Labour will organise the new referendum:

  • it will offer the choice of remaining in the EU, or “leaving with a sensible deal”;
  • this “final say” referendum “will not be a re-run of 2016.  It will be legally binding;
  • it would implement the decision of the British people immediately;
  • it would introduce legislation to facilitate the referendum and “to provide legal certainty and stability following the result”.

On immigration, the party “recognises the huge benefits of immigration to our country” including to Britons who have moved to other EU countries and “our public services and our industry have benefited from skilled workers coming here”.  The party pledges to end the uncertainty of the EU Settlement Scheme by giving EU nationals the automatic right to stay in the UK without having to register for proof of their entitlement to do so.

The manifesto then gives some indication of the EU policies that Labour would pursue if the country voted to remain in it:

  • the EU needs “a new political direction”;
  • an end to the “politically inflicted wave of austerity” that had damaged communities in Britain and in Europe;
  • the EU “should focus on policies that value investment, protect public services and make those who have the most pay their fair share” it says.

 

The Liberal Democrats

Entitled Stop Brexit – Build a Brighter Future, the manifesto begins with the Brexit issue. 4  The party is emphatic in their opposition to Brexit: “We are unashamedly fighting to stay in the European Union…We believe that our best future as a country is as a member of the European Union”.  They say that “any form of Brexit will damage our economy” and that there is “no Brexit deal that will ever be as good as the deal we currently have as a member of the European Union”.

The manifesto explains this policy as being about values not institutions: stopping Brexit “isn’t just about retaining membership of this or that EU institution”, it’s “about who we are as a country and the values that drive our choices”.  “It’s about choosing to work with others in taking on the big challenges that we face”, such as the climate crisis or cybercrime.  It is also about, the manifesto says, “recognising that the zero-sum games of the past no longer apply to a world where our future prosperity is so interlinked with that of our closest allies”.

Staying in the European Union, the manifesto says, “will secure a £50 billion Remain Bonus, with the economy two per cent larger by 2024-25”, which could be invested in schools and on tackling in-work poverty and inequality.

In the chapter on Brexit, the manifesto says that the election of a majority Liberal Democrat government would give them a mandate to revoke Article 50 and stay in the EU.  In any other circumstances, the party would fight for a new referendum with the option to stay in the EU and then campaign to keep the UK in the EU.

Describing a Liberal Democrat government as the only way to “get the Brexit process over”, the manifesto says that the Conservative claim that they will get Brexit done is wrong: “It will simply usher in more years of difficult negotiations over the UK’s trade deal with the EU, with a very high chance of Britain crashing out and trying to survive on so-called ‘WTO terms’” – almost no other country trades on that basis.

The manifesto also criticises Labour’s proposal to negotiate a new deal, saying that Labour will not commit to campaigning for one side or the other.  It concludes: “The fact is that whether Labour Red or Tory Blue, Brexit is bad for the UK.”

The manifesto makes the case for the UK to remain in the EU, saying that the UK can best tackle many of today’s threats by working with other countries.  They also argue that EU membership is good for the UK economy and that free movement of people has brought many benefits to the UK.

 

Plaid Cymru

A vote for Plaid Cymru would “be a vote for Wales to stay inside the European Union and build a prosperous future” the party declares at the beginning of its manifesto.5  Describing itself as “Wales’ leading party of Remain” the party says that it is united in its aim of keeping Wales in the EU and to put “the decision back to the people in a referendum”.

The party says that “no form of Brexit would be good for Wales”.  It would, they say, “devastate the livelihoods of thousands of our people”.  They say that the Conservative plan to “take Wales out of the Single Market and the Customs Union will hit the Welsh economy hard”.  Citing the Government’s own forecasts, they suggest it will “result in a slow-down in growth of at least -5.5% by 2030”.

In a chapter entitled ‘A Final Say Referendum’, the party explains why it disagrees with the Prime Minister’s existing deal, focusing on the negative impact on the Welsh economy, its “blind Brexit” nature, that it does not protect rights and it puts a barrier down the Irish Sea.

The manifesto says that the Johnson deal “is, in effect, no-deal by another route” because the country would be “stuck debating Brexit for the next twelve months” and would then face another no-deal Brexit cliff-edge in December 2020 if no free trade agreement had been agreed.

A no deal Brexit would hit Welsh meat exports, which would face huge import tariffs of as much as 84 per cent on cattle and 48 per cent on lamb, the manifesto says.  Pointing out that two-thirds of Welsh exports go to the EU and that Wales’ success in attracting inward investment has largely been due to it being in the Single Market, the party says it has called for Wales to stay in the EU customs union and the Single Market for goods and services.

The manifesto criticises the notion that it would be easy for the UK to negotiate trade deals outside the EU and warns that prioritising a trade deal with the US over one with the EU will lead the UK to be bound by some US regulations.

The manifesto expresses concern about manufacturing after job losses in the sector and a decline in inward investment since 2016.  It expresses concern about the treatment of EU citizens living in Wales, saying that they should not have to apply to the EU Settled Status scheme in order to remain.  The party calls for a Welsh migration policy that would prioritise skills gaps.

 

Scottish National Party

“A vote for the SNP is a vote to escape Brexit” says the party’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, in her introduction.6  “Escape from Brexit” is the second of the party’s pledges (after a referendum on independence).

The manifesto says that “Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU but has been completely ignored by Westminster” and its interests had been “trampled over” throughout the entire process.  It was wrong to suggest that Brexit could be settled in a few months.  The party would support a second referendum with Remain on the ballot and would support revoking Article 50 if that was the only alternative to a no deal Brexit.

In a section entitled “Brexit is a disaster for Scotland”, the party explains why it disagrees with Brexit in a specifically Scottish context.  It says that England and Wales voted to leave and will do so; Northern Ireland is getting “a special deal and the right to choose its future” but Scotland “is to get nothing”.  Scotland was being taken out of the EU, the Single Market and the Customs Union against its will.

The manifesto criticises the notion that a Brexit trade deal will be quickly negotiated and says if talks fail a no deal Brexit will again be possible.  A trade deal with the US has the risk of the NHS being opened up to US multinationals.  The manifesto argues for an independent Scotland that would be a member of the EU in its own right.

In the section on agriculture, the party demands reassurances that Scotland’s farmers will continue to receive the same share of funding that they have received from the CAP and that the UK government will top-up this to reflect the additional EU funds Scottish agriculture receives.

On fisheries, the manifesto says that the UK exports 75 per cent of the fish it catches, about three-quarters of it to the EU.  Around 4,500 EU nationals work in fish processing and “we need to ensure they remain in their Scottish communities”.  The party wants Scotland to be able to play a full part in any negotiations with the EU on fisheries and reform of the Common Fisheries Policy if the UK stays in the EU.

On immigration, the manifesto defends free movement of people and demands that powers over immigration are devolved to Scotland “so we can put in place a tailored immigration system that addresses our social and economic needs”.

  1.   Conservative and Unionist Party, Get Brexit Done, Unleash Britain’s Potential: The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto 2019, 22 November 2019
  2.   Green Party, If not now, when? Manifesto 2019, 19 November 2019, p. 28
  3.   Labour Party, It’s time for real change: The Labour Party Manifesto 2019, 18 November 2019, p. 89
  4.   Liberal Democrats, Stop Brexit – Build a Brighter Future: Manifesto 2019, 27 November 2019
  5.   Plaid Cymru, Wales, it’s us: General Election Manifesto 2019, 19 November 2019, p. 5
  6.    Scottish National Party, Scotland’s Future in Scotland’s Hands: 2019 Manifesto, 25 November 2019, p. 2
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