Have the Conservatives forgotten how to be pro-business?

The political Right has always had a rather narrow interpretation of ‘pro-business’. It has interpreted it as deregulation and the euphemism of ‘flexible Labour markets.’

Brexit has changed all of that.

The Labour Party has now come out in favour of remaining in a customs union with the EU. Jeremy Corbyn has also made clear that protecting Britain’s trade with the EU (a certainty) has to take precedence over potential future deals with China or the USA (highly uncertain). He also talks of a ‘jobs first’ Brexit and about the folly of arbitrary immigration targets that will starve business of the labour and skills that it needs.

In addition, some recent detailed work (yet to be published) has shown that most UK businesses have no appetite for the business disruption that would result from a massive orgy of post-Brexit deregulation.

All this has turned politics on its head – something we are seeing somewhat more of these days. Labour’s position is now a clearly articulated set of what can be considered pro-business policies. The Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to be like a dazed dog being wagged by the extreme Brexiteer tail. No amount of damage to business, to jobs, to the British economy, and to people’s livelihoods seems to be enough to make a dent in the hardest of hard Brexit ideology.

Ah! But it’s not just about the economy, the Brexiteers will doubtless argue. We are a sovereign nation, the cradle of representative democracy and we are fighting for a much higher purpose – respect for the sovereign decisions of our Parliament. This from the very same people, it seems, that have started taking legal advice as to whether a vote in Parliament requiring that the UK remain in a customs union can be ignored by the government.

So let us be clear. The hard Brexit ideology is driven by one thing and one thing alone – a deep, long-standing and visceral dislike of the European Union. All else is fluff.

There is nothing inherently wrong with that. People are entitled to feel what they feel. Some of us can empathise with aspects of the EU that are frustrating, disagreeable, and sometimes infuriating. But it would command more respect if people came out and said that rather than spouting nonsense and pretending to seize the high ground of democratic principle.

I never thought I would say this. But, in the current looking glass world, Corbyn’s Labour is starting to seem a good deal saner than the government

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. Stephen Gwynne says

    From an EU customs union and an EU single market to a global customs union and a global single market, you’ve got to start somewhere. Beyond that the very same economic principles and arguments apply to both. So overall it is really just about continuity and change. Change towards a global customs union and single market is Progress. Continuity is typified by Reactionary conservative forces. This is the true nature of how UK politics is turning on its head. The Right is progress, the Left is reactionary.

    • Joe Zammit-Lucia says

      Thank you, Stephen, for your comment.

      Jumping off a mountain into the mist without any idea of what lies beneath the mist and landing with a dead cat bounce is also “change”. But you’re dead at the end of it. Most sane people would rather climb down carefully with a good safety harness and having some idea, based on evidence (imperfect though that might be), of whether what lies beneath the mist is a more hospitable and productive environment than at the top.

      The idea of a global customs union and a global single market is pure fantasy. It can’t even be made to work well within the limited confines of the EU. it flies in the face of what is actually going on in the world (see Renaud Girard’s excellent post from today about how the world is evolving and wait for our upcoming book on the future of free trade).

      What we are seeing in UK politics is not progress vs reactionary politics; continuity vs change. It’s the difference between blind ideology that is to be pursued irrespective of the consequences on people’s lives, and the philosophy of political realism. Blind ideology – whether of the Right, the Left, the Up or the Down – has always ended in tears. Which is why democracy has advantages. It does not allow the pursuit of destructive ideologies for long. And why ideologues always destroy democracy once they get into power.

      Sadly, both main parties in the UK are putting blind ideology first – except that Labour seems to be slowly, slowly developing some more realism in the case of Brexit (and, for the moment, only Brexit).

  2. John Phillips says

    When are people going to realise something about this man,He is taking this customs union stance for one reason,He is a friend of Sinn Vein and they need a open border to realise their ambition of a united Ireland.

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