Brexit is a key theme in the General Election Manifestos of the main UK political parties.
Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto
The Manifesto underlines the ‘Unionist’ element of its name in a section dealing with Northern Ireland. It begins by recognising the unique circumstances of the region and asserts that it will seek to ensure that Northern Ireland’s interests are protected.
The opening statement on Brexit argues that “Only the Conservative Party, under Theresa May’s strong and stable leadership, can negotiate the best possible deal for our country.”
Accepting that the coming negotiations will be tough, it repeats the claim that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, but importantly goes on to say that the UK will “enter the negotiations in a spirit of sincere cooperation […] committed to getting the best deal for Britain.”
The document also states that a Conservative Government will maintain the Common Travel Area and maintain “as frictionless a border as possible” for people, goods and services on the island of Ireland.
The trading relationship
In a key passage, the Manifesto reiterates the UK Government’s prior statements regarding the Single Market and Customs Union, as well as the desire to seek a comprehensive free trade deal and new customs arrangements with the EU:
As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union but we will seek a deep and special partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement. There may be specific European programmes in which we might want to participate and if so, it will be reasonable that we make a contribution.
The ‘Brexit Bill’
Addressing an issue which could determine the likelihood of a positive outcome to the early negotiations there is a commitment to determine a “fair settlement” of the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing Member State. The size of the Brexit Bill is a matter of much debate, with EU estimates ranging from €40 billion to €100 billion, and the precise methodology for calculating this will be a key component of the early phases of the negotiations.
The Great Repeal Bill
The so-called Great Repeal Bill will convert existing EU law into UK law with the intention of removing uncertainty, in particular on issues such as environmental legislation, consumers’ rights and workers’ rights. However, it is also made clear that once the Bill is passed, Parliament will be in a position to repeal or amend any existing legislation originating in EU law.
However, a Conservative Government will not bring the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law. Despite many contrary indications it is not intended to “repeal or replace the Human Rights Act while the process of Brexit is underway.” There is a commitment to revisit the UK’s human rights legal framework once the Brexit process is concluded and the UK will remain signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights for the duration of the next parliament.
The Labour Party Manifesto
Accepting the referendum result…
In its own manifesto, the Labour Party makes clear that it accepts the referendum result, but says that a Labour government would prioritise jobs and living standards, close relations with the EU, workers’ rights and environmental standards. It goes on to say that it will “provide certainty to EU nationals and give a meaningful role to Parliament throughout negotiations.”
… but rejecting the Conservative approach
Labour rejects Theresa May’s approach to Brexit and will “seek to unite the country around a Brexit deal that works for every community in Britain.” Labour would scrap the Conservatives’ Brexit White Paper and set out fresh negotiating priorities with an emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union – which the manifesto says “are essential for maintaining industries, jobs and businesses in Britain.”
Labour also rejects the Conservative premise that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, claiming that this would be the worst possible outcome for the UK: “We will reject ‘no deal’ as a viable option and if needs be will negotiate transitional arrangements to avoid a ‘cliff-edge’ for the economy.”
A commitment is made to scrap the Great Repeal Bill, replacing it with an EU Rights and Protections Bill “that will ensure there is no detrimental change to workers’ rights, equality law, consumer rights or environmental protections as a result of Brexit.”
Northern Ireland and devolved administrations
The Labour Party also commits to ensuring that there is no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland, and expresses its intention to improve engagement and dialogue with the devolved administrations during the Brexit process.
Given the significance of immigration in the Brexit debate the Manifesto notes that, while freedom of movement will end when the UK leaves the European Union, Britain’s immigration system would still need to change. Nonetheless, the manifesto states that Labour will not “scapegoat migrants nor blame them for economic failures”.
A second referendum
The Liberal Democrats’ Manifesto strikes a different note, headlining its chapter on Brexit ‘Giving the People the Final Say.’
Recalling that the Liberal Democrats campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, the party Manifesto argues that the referendum decision was simply a vote on whether to remain in or to leave the European Union, but that the people did not vote on the terms of the future relationship. In the Liberal Democrat view, it has become clear “that the Conservatives are campaigning for a hard Brexit.” This would imply leaving the single market, ending freedom of movement and abandoning the customs union. The Liberal Democrats argue that these choices will make the UK poorer and disappoint many leave voters who had expected a different economic outcome.
This theme of a referendum is central to the Manifesto:
The Conservatives want the decision to be taken by politicians. Liberal Democrats believe the British people should have the final say. That’s why, when the terms of our future relationship with the EU have been negotiated, we will put that deal to a vote of the British people in a referendum, with the alternative option of staying in the EU on the ballot paper. We continue to believe that there is no deal as good for the UK outside the EU as the one it already has as a member. Every vote for the Liberal Democrats in this election is a vote to give the final say to the British people.
Like the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrat Manifesto indicates a commitment to show respect for the interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, stating: “We will fight to ensure that the priorities and long-term interests of the nations of the UK are fully taken into account during negotiations. We will oppose any moves that threaten the political stability of Northern Ireland.”
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