Theresa May’s dish of disappointment in Brussels
The UK prime minister did not get the result she was hoping for at this week’s EU summit, so what comes next for Brexit? And what was Jeremy Corbyn up to in Brussels too? With Peter Mandelson, Alex Barker, Jim Pickard and Miranda Green of the Financial Times.
Presented by Sebastian Payne. Produced by Anna Dedhar. Edited by Trixia Abao.
Welcome to FT Politics, the Financial Times's podcast on British politics. I'm Sebastian Payne. And in this week's episode, we'll be discussing the EU summit in Brussels and why Theresa May did not unlock the Brexit talks, plus, what Labour has been saying on Brexit too. I'm delighted to be joined by Alex Barker, the FT's Brussels Bureau Chief, the former business secretary and EU trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, Chief Political Correspondent Jim Pickard, and political commentator Miranda Green. Thank you all for joining.
This was a big Brexit-packed week for Theresa May. The crucial EU counter-summit on Thursday and Friday was crucial for Britain. Would this be the moment the talks would move from the divorce stage onto the future relationship? No. The UK prime minister received some nice words from the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And the go head was given for some internal preparations to begin for trade talks, hopefully in December. But for the UK and the EU, they're still in deadlock. So really, what happens next?
Alex Barker, can you just begin by giving us a background on this summit and why Theresa May didn't get this nod that has been talked about so much in recent weeks?
Well, basically behind this is a misjudgment on the UK side about what they would be able to get from the Florence speech concession. And they were hoping to be able to start a transition negotiation and bring together a divorce deal and transition deal. And the EU had taken a much firmer position on the sequencing of these talks than they expected. And that has played out over the past couple of weeks in the back room diplomacy.
What we saw today was the EU sticking by its fundamental positions, but at the same time, giving Theresa May a degree of encouragement or help in terms of the more positive tone they're trying to adopt. They're signalling that they hope this deal is going to be done in December and that this work they're going to be starting on the internal preparation for transition and a future trade deal will also help the momentum over the coming months and help her through this process of having to offer fundamentally just a lot more money. And we'll have to see up to December whether she has the [NO AUDIO] on the climbing wall to grapple on upwards to get towards a deal.
So this comes back fundamentally to the negotiating mandate that Michel Barnier and his team have, which is that they have to get some real hard details from the UK on these fundamental three issues-- citizens' rights for EU citizens in the UK after Brexit, the Northern Ireland border, and the divorce bill. So people in the UK have been saying, well, the EU is not being flexible enough. It's being too stuck in its ways. Well, that's exactly how it operates. And they set out those parameters back in April. They haven't shifted. So it's not really a surprise, because there hasn't been significant movement on those issues, that you didn't get the nod.
Well, Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, has pushed this option of bringing in the transition discussion in parallel to help them get through that sticky business on the divorce. But Germany in particular and other member states weren't happy for him to do that at this point.
And so how do we get through this period up to December? I mean, there's two ways. One is that you work in parallel on the EU side on this transition while Barnier and the Brits are working on the divorce. And then you get to December, and you jump simultaneously into a deal of some kind. The transition might be ripe enough at that point that it wouldn't take that much more negotiation. That's one way.
Another way is that Theresa May says, look, I'm going to accept these kind of obligations of money, but it's contingent on discussing them in the context of a transition. And you might be able to, again, shimmy into a different dialogue. But both of them are going to require a big jump in financial terms. That's a big risk for her to take domestically in Westminster. And we'll have to see over the coming weeks how they're going to handle that problem.
So Miranda Green, let's bring this back on home for a moment here, that, of course, throughout all these talks, Theresa May's main focus around her Euro-skeptic colleagues, in particular, those 80-or-so Conservative MPs who are set on a clean and as quick as possible break from the EU. And those are the people who came for John Major. They came for David Cameron. And she's very worried they will come for her at some point as well.
And the reason she was so reluctant to put money on the table is because that was seen as giving way to Brussels and handing over money. A lot of those 80 MPs, out the ones I've spoken to, they say to me, no, we've spent all this money on the EU over the past 40 years. Why should we be giving even more now?
And in an FT editorial on Thursday, we said that if she doesn't get this nod, the thing will be that her colleagues will start saying, Britain needs to walk away. The EU's not interested in a deal. That actually happened before the summit even came. The front page of The Daily Telegraph was this week, "Theresa May Urged to Walk Away from Talks." So she's got this very difficult position of what Alex was saying, that she's got to put more on the table, more money, and be more flexible from the Bush position. But on the other hand, she's got all her hardline colleagues who are saying, absolutely not. You can't give away anymore.
Absolutely. So there are two terrible calculations that she's trying to make at the same time, as you've described. And she is in a real political fix on this. One is that she needs to continue asking the European Union for sympathy about her political plight.
Which she did this week. She asked for sympathy.
Absolutely, almost explicitly asking for sympathy. This continues a story which was started when David Cameron tried to renegotiate terms before the referendum. There are a lot of people in the UK who still go back to that and say, if only the EU had realised that David Cameron was in danger of losing his referendum, we wouldn't be in this mess now. You can get in a real fix as the UK expecting the rest of the EU to pay attention to our political problems.
It's just rubbish.
Exactly. But you rightly draw attention to the problem with her own MPs. She's in an extremely weak position after the debacle that was the general election, where she lost the Tory majority. And she's got this group of Brexity headbangers on the right of the Conservative Party.
Conservative politician after Conservative politician has tried throwing red meat to this group of Tory Euro-skeptics over the years. And all it does is increase their hunger for a harder and harder line against Europe. And this is happening again, even in the midst of negotiations. So you've had this really fearsome campaign now for a no deal. And you've even seen this morning front pages of British newspapers saying David Davis, the Brexit secretary, now preparing for a no deal. So there's been this tussle going on that actually, no deal at all is indeed preferable. And that's the way they want to push her. There's an ongoing competition, I think, for the worst possible metaphor for Brexit.
And I think that James cleverly-- the Tory MP-- actually won hands down this week. Because he said, if you were thinking of buying a house, you would just say, I'm prepared to walk away as a way of getting a better price. I've never heard a worse analogy in my life. But that is the sort of mindset of much of Theresa May's own backbenches. And that's the sort of mindset that she's trying to placate at the same time as do a deal with our European partners.
I think we can all agree that golf clubs, tennis clubs, private members clubs, house buying, car buying, all those things have been compared to Brexit. None of them are like Brexit at all.
Miranda, one thing that I think the Florence speech really did do was push those people a lot further than I actually thought they would go. Because when she gave that speech and essentially said, we are going to have a standstill transition, and Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, who are both hardline Brexit, actually came and said, we're OK with that.
I thought, well, that's quite good groundwork from Downing Street to get those people on the side. And there is a certain sense among the parliamentary Conservative Party that we've stomached quite a lot over Florence based on what their views of Brexit should be. If you try and push them now with a bill that, let's say, just for argument's sake, doubles from the EU20 billion to EU40 billion between now and December, that's when you do feel they could actually say, well, hang on a minute. This isn't right at all. And they're going to start really trying to turn the screws on her. And again, her position just becomes ever more impossible. I don't know how much more they're willing to take.
It's very dangerous ground for her indeed. And I think you're right to go back to the Florence speech and the mood music around that. Because as well as establishing the idea of a transition and getting that past her own Tory team, she also actually managed to say there, in terms of the financial contribution, we are Britain. We pay our obligations. And she couched it quite well, I thought, in the terms of the national honour.
But you're right. If the bill starts to go upwards, some of those people will start actively campaigning for what they want anyway, which is no deal. Because that fits with their ultimate desired destination, which is a radically deregulated UK, free of all ties, this sort of buccaneering vision of Britain.
Singapore off the Coast of Europe.
Absolutely. Singapore off the coast of Europe. That is very different from the soft pragmatic Brexit, which I think we probably would all agree we think that Theresa May would like to achieve in her heart of hearts.
Alex, let's just talk about this idea of a no-deal Brexit, which has had a lot of air time in the UK over the past week. Because first of all, it doesn't actually mean no deal. What most people mean by that is no deal under the Article 50 negotiations that are currently ongoing. Most people think it would be a bunch of bilateral deals to ensure planes stay in the sky, nuclear power continues to have its waste disposed properly, that sort of thing.
In the British sense, it certainly feels this week that no deal is rising up the probability scale quite rapidly. What's the Brussels sense on this? Is anybody countenancing that these talks are going to fall apart, and they will have to then fall back to this? Or if these Article 50 talks do collapse, will Brussels just say, oh, well. Fair enough. We tried. Your problem now.
First of all, you've got to distinguish what they understand to be no deal here. There's no withdrawal agreement. They would say, we don't have the trust and faith in the UK after this long relationship where they've entered commitments with us to enter new commitments of the kind you were mentioning, to keep planes in the air and cars running and so forth. So it's quite hard to imagine that you wouldn't do the withdrawal deal, but you would do lots of other things to keep the economy running.
At the same time, clearly, if you were in a calamitous situation like that where nothing is agreed, there would be a lot of steps that they would take by themselves on each side to guarantee rights of individuals, to potentially make arrangements in customs and so forth. You'd probably see banks being given soft treatment for a while by the regulators on either side while they adjust to this. But it's hard to imagine that you could put together an architecture that would make everything run in a very clean, fluid way if there's no deal at all.
And that's probably one reason why most people here don't think that's going to happen. They see the risk rising. But ultimately, if the UK can't bring in parts for its nuclear plants, if the UK doesn't have licences for international airlines group to run, Iberia and Aer Lingus and things like that, that's a pretty serious state of affairs. And I suspect they think if there's a walkout around the no deal rhetoric, they'd end up coming back to something eventually.
Now, having said all that, clearly, the contingency planning is starting here in a more serious way, I think at both the EU level and by member states. They're looking a bit more closely into the contingency plans and looking particularly at customs. And that will carry on.
But just remember this one fact. Whenever anyone talks to you about no deal, whatever the UK can prepare, whatever brilliant systems can be put in place, the customs people hired and so forth, it still needs a partner on the other side. And in France, it takes about 2 1/2 years to train a customs inspector.
That's a very good stat. Yeah, we'll need to get a lot of those if there is going to be a no deal scenario.
So this idea of a walkout you mentioned-- because I've picked up on this from people at the department of exiting the EU, that thought if we don't get the nod in October, there's a good chance things could come to a real standoff in November. Now, I can't imagine the EU side will walk out, because they've got a mandate. And I'm sure Michel Barnier would happily sit and talk to an empty chair, because he's there to negotiate this. But you can see a circumstance for a British walkout, where this narrative of intransigence from the EU and unreasonableness develops, and the political pressure ramps up so much they feel they have to have some kind of standoff.
If that does happen, would that sour relations entirely do you think? Or do you think the EU would wait and hope that Britain comes back and begins to equivocate on the money, for example?
If there is a serious workout, it would take quite a lot of effort to patch it up again. And that will take a lot of time. And that has a cost.
At the moment, both sides seem, at this summit, to have pulled it back from the brink and try to give the political atmosphere where they could see a bit more movement in coming weeks.
But there are people in the British government who think that you'll have a moment of crisis. That might come in November, when the discussions on the money are heated. And you might need that crisis to really pull together all the pieces that you need to do a deal on this first phase. So the next few weeks, the next few months, are really going to be some of the most critical of this whole process in terms of how much can be achieved before 2019 and the quality of the relations we're going to have at the end of this.
Ultimately, Miranda, this comes back to Theresa May's position as well. There was a slightly unfortunate picture of Mrs. May sitting across four potted plants alone at her table, which I think for some people symbolised the position that she's at. And it's rather a lonely one actually, because she hasn't got a lot of her government onside, as Alex was saying. She's trying to forge this sensible path on Brexit while she's being pulled either way by people who want her to adopt an entirely different approach, a much tougher approach, a much lighter approach. And she doesn't really have much authority to drive anything through. And there are some people in the civil service who do think there's not really any kind of Brexit deal she's going to be able to sell to the country, because it's going to require too many compromises on the things that she set out in the Lancaster House speech and the Florence speech.
Absolutely. It's a completely thankless task. Those photographs of her sitting alone, they're just as bad as the ones from the last summit, where she was spotted wandering around the back of a summit room with everyone else chatting to each other. I know. It's very unprofessional of her team, I have to say.
But the [INAUDIBLE], also, she is clearly an introvert in a job that is better suited to an extrovert. So you feel for her on that level, and also because her isolation symbolises Britain's position. There are other things the EU wants to be discussing at these summits, not just Brexit. It's consuming our politics. But it's not actually the only thing on Europe's agenda. And that becomes painfully obvious.
I will say this though, following up on what Alex was talking about the mood music today. Last week, we were talking about Michel Barnier saying we were at a distressing moment, that the deadlock was such that we're reaching a terrible crux. This week, we've got Donald Tusk, someone of whom I'm becoming a massive fan, trying to be a little bit more emollient. And there have been people saying the way that the EU always reaches agreements is getting to such a bad point of misunderstanding that they then pull something out of the fire at the last minute. We've certainly had our own columnist, Wolfgang Munchau, write that at the beginning of this week, that the darkest hour is always before the dawn with these European crises. So you know, we all sort of live in hope of that.
But I think that this idea that the increasingly powerful pro-Brexit wing of the Tory party is actually campaigning for a negotiation debacle makes that hope a little less bright than it otherwise would be.
What are the EU 27's views of Mrs. May, Alex? Obviously, June's general election was all about striking her negotiating mandate and to look as a powerful prime minister who had the country and Parliament behind her. Instead, she doesn't have Parliament behind her. And the country's still very divided. So what is the perception of that and this idea that she has said to the leaders over dinner on Thursday evening, please give me a deal I can sell?
The 27 had a discussion for about an hour today on Brexit. And at the beginning of it, they took 90 seconds to agree on common position. And it went into a discussion, as various diplomats and people familiar with the whole thing have been explaining to me. And it quickly got onto the subject of Theresa May. Is she strong enough to deliver this? What happens if she's not? Are they best to do a deal with her, or wait for whatever comes later? And the key question-- should they be taking the initiative to give her a helping hand through these months? And there was three or four countries that said, yes, we should be doing. We should be a bit more actively trying to help her stitch this together at Westminster.
But the consensus there, and certainly one that Angela Merkel supports, is that they spent enough time at the EU trying to solve the problems of the Tory party and that it's beyond that point now. She's very cautious about how they structure these talks. And I think they fundamentally want Theresa May to move again in a decisive way. And then I think there's the will there to be a bit more flexible and to help her over the final threshold of the deal. But at this point, I don't think they will be taking the initiative to help her through.
Theresa May wasn't the only British political party leader to go to Brussels this week. Jeremy Corbyn also hopped on the Eurostat to add his voice to the Brexit shenanigans. Whereas the Tories continue to insist that no deal is better than a bad deal, the Labour leader said he would accept pretty much any deal from the EU. He spoke at a rally, one of his favourite pastimes, and received a standing ovation for saying the neoliberal economic model is broken. But really, what is the point of his position on Brexit?
Peter Mandelson is someone who comes from the unashamedly pro-EU way of the Labour Party. Is it fair to say that he's really putting his party's interests above those of the country? He's not really saying many strong things on Brexit. But he's trying to hold together that coalition of provincial Brexit-supporting voters, and the more metropolitan liberally-inclined people like yourself.
I think it's unfair to say that he's just putting party before country, although the test of him as the next year goes on will be the extent to which and the way in which he puts the country first, the way in which he interprets what's going on in Brexit, what his impact will be, and the damage it will cause, and what he's prepared to do to oppose this government's version of Brexit.
I think that in a democracy, the country shouldn't just accept without question whatever version of Brexit the government decides upon, good or bad. And his job as the opposition leader is to pick up on the bad and oppose it. And unless he does that, the Labour Party's supporters in the country, including many of its young supporters and many of those in his own Momentum organisation will start to call him out on this.
The slight problem is though that he talks about a jobs-first Brexit, or a tariff-free frictionless access to the single market, which are really meaningless terms, because a jobs-first Brexit is one that, you might say, favours economic growth over cutting migration, for example. But he won't actively say that because, again, of this divide he's trying to breach here. So I look at Labour's position on Brexit and struggle to see how is that different from the Conservative's right now.
Well, he doesn't want to spell out what it means because he doesn't want to appear to be disrespecting or defining the outcome of the referendum. And he doesn't want to alienate those supporters of the Labour Party who voted leave.
Now, the truth is that he can't prioritise a jobs-first Brexit without finding a way for Britain to end up in the single market and/or the customs union. If we're out of both those things, then our economy is going to take a hammering. We're going to lose an enormous amount of trade, investment, and therefore, jobs. And people's livelihoods are really going to be very severely damaged.
Now, what he's doing is setting out an umbrella slogan, if you like. It's his banner. What he's got to do is to organise the argument I make some quite difficult policy choices behind or underneath that banner. Otherwise, people, as time goes on-- and I keep stressing this. As time goes on, people are going to say, well, what is the logic of your position? What conclusion do you reach? What's the policy you favour? What option do you want over and above what the government is proposing?
All these questions he's going to have to answer. He can sort of tap dance his way through for the time being. But he can't indefinitely.
This is the position of many people in the shadow cabinet, as well, Jim Pickard. And I think a lot of people I've spoken to there, they say, well, we're going to let the government do the running. We're going to let them set the goalposts on this, because if we set our position before the government, then it risks being outmanoeuvred.
So if you take, for example, the thing about transition, Labour was very careful to not say, we support a status quo transition. They did it just two weeks before the government then set out theirs. And it made Labour look good, because it said, we are now leading the conversation on this.
But in terms of those questions Peter talks about, what the relationship with the single market, the customs union is going to be, I think a lot of people are quite hesitant to do that because so much is still up in the air, which might be good for the party's position. But again, as I would say, I'm not sure it's great for the country and the overall Brexit debate.
Yeah, you're right. If Keir Starmer sat here today, he would say, we have put country ahead of party. And the proof of that was that we backed a transition period publicly before the government did. And we led them by the nose into that position when Keir Starmer set out in late August that Labour would accept staying in the single market and customs union for two years, whatever the period would be.
The only problem with their argument is that we know that senior cabinet ministers Philip Hammond and David Davis had already been discussing it all summer. And if the timing had been ever so slightly different, Labour could have found itself actually behind the Tories, and for a short period of time, accepting a harder Brexit than them.
I do to agree with Lord Mandelson that during the June election, it did work out somehow for Labour to be all things to all people. Having a very fluid approach to Brexit did allow them to appeal to remainers and leavers in different parts of the country. But I don't think you can sustain that for another five years or however long this Parliament's will turn out to be.
And I suppose the withdrawal bill, which is a crucial piece of legislation that has been delayed I think twice now from being debated in the House of Commons, Jim, because there's just too many amendments from Conservative MPs, Labour MPs. And they want to use this bill to shape what kind of Brexit the government pursues.
And there's a cross-party amendment from Chris Leslie, a backbench Labour MP, and Ken Clarke, the Father of the House, Tory Grandee, that basically would block out a no deal Brexit we were talking about earlier in the podcast. But is there much chance of that getting through? And are we ever going to see this withdrawal bill debated?
Yeah, exactly. Just to step back from that one a second. So there's 300 amendments to the withdrawal bill. It's already been delayed by a couple of weeks. We may not see it now until after the recess in mid-November.
When you look at what Jeremy Corbyn and the official Labour frontbench are doing on the bill, they have put down loads of amendments. But they're not particularly controversial ones. They're things about the devolved administrations. There's a clause about insisting that environmental and workers' protections are maintained after Brexit, nothing that rocks the boat too much. And they're leaving the more ambitious wrecking stuff to backbenchers such as Chris Leslie, who is no ideological soulmate of the Corbynisters to do that stuff.
And I think when you look at the amendments, the most risky one for Theresa May's government is that Chris Leslie, Ken Clarke one, which is, in theory, about needing a transition period and getting that legal guarantee on a transition period of two years or however long it is. But like you say, it is a de facto attempt to get a veto on a no deal situation. And should that one go through, then the government really is in quite a precarious position.
Could I just make a point about that? I think it's right for Labour's frontbench to allow people like Ken Clarke and Chris Leslie to lead on this and to go first. Anything that becomes an official opposition policy and position immediately makes it more difficult for the government's MPs to support it. If it comes from the backbenches on the other hand and its cross-party, it becomes easier for others to support. So I think Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer are right to hold back and to allow others to go ahead.
Just on that, with John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor who went on The Andrew Marr Show and gave a tacit endorsement to this kind of amendment-- so there is some relationship between the Labour leadership and the Labour backbenchers on this.
Yeah, there is a relationship. And I was pleased that John McDonnell made such a clear and unambiguous statement about a no deal. Because of course, that would be a catastrophe for the country. And in a sense, John McDonnell was drawing a very clear line in the sand. And I welcome that.
You see, I think that really, what the Labour party has got to do is not to go too far ahead of public opinion. I know that sounds strange. I am a great believer in political leadership. I've led with my chain all my political life, with varying consequences.
But I think they're in a good position if they say, look, clearly, 16 months on from the referendum, and six months on from the Article 50 trickery, it's absolutely clear to people across the country that Brexit is far more complicated than anyone realised at the time. And that's before all the detail has to be thrashed out between the UK and the EU, and that as the Brexit process continues, and as new facts come to light, which nobody could have known or foreseen at the time of the referendum, it's right for people to keep an open mind on the outcome. Keep looking at this, looking at the details, scrutinise what is going on, question the government, hold them to account. And then in due course, if it becomes clear that proceeding with Brexit-- and when I say clear, I mean clear to the public that proceeding with Brexit will cause real damage to our country in the way that the government are proposing, then we really have to take stock and see whether we want to proceed with it.
But that has to come from the public. It's not something that can come from Parliament, or from the establishment, or from the elite, or from certain remainers like myself. It's the public that's got to move to this position and then communicate that to Parliament and not the other way around.
But my view on that one is that the Treasury were making such dire warnings about the consequences of a Brexit vote from day one but that's made it much less likely, I think, that the public is going to turn around and say, well, maybe inflation has risen [INAUDIBLE]--
I agree with that too. I think it's going to make it harder, but not less likely. Look--
But it hasn't happened yet, has it? Her
Look at what Brexit's already doing to the economy. I mean, wages are not going up, but prices are. So families are worse off. The cost of the weekly supermarket shop has increased as a result of the fall in the value of the pound. And that's going to get worse, not better.
But I'm not sure that people are berating themselves for their [INAUDIBLE].
Before the referendum, Britain led the top G-7 economies in economic growth. Now, we're at the bottom and foreign investment is falling because of all the uncertainty.
Now, I know it's very difficult for people to access these facts because we have a Brexit press in this country that wants to keep this veil tightly drawn around all this. But word gets out. People experience supermarket prices in their daily lives. They're not idiots. They know what is going on. And this is not what they were led to expect. They were told that this would be simple, straightforward, that getting this deal really would be the easiest thing to do in human history, as Liam Fox said. And they know that it is turning out differently.
Now, at the moment, they may not be changing their minds, the 52%. But I think that very many of them are starting to question what they're seeing and what they're hearing and asking themselves whether it's what they were led to expect in the first place.
Lord Mandelson, I wanted to play a bit of parallel politics, sort of fancy land, which is this. If Owen Smith had won in the summer of 2016, when there was that leadership challenge, and he stood on the ticket, amongst other things, promising a second EU referendum, do you accept that Labour could have done less well, a lot less well in June this year, because they would have taken a lot more pain in those northern heartlands, where they did manage to cling on with their more nuanced stance?
I can see the logic of what you're arguing. There might have been other reasons of course if Owen Smith had won why his appeal might have been broader and why he might have done even better. You're looking at this through one prism, one lens.
And you can't do that in politics. You can't play if in that way.
So yes, I see what you're saying. And in a sense, the ambiguity of Corbyn's position allowed him to appeal to both leavers and remainers. But let's look at the result. He got an enormous more backing from remainers in country at the election than he did from leavers in the population as a whole. And he's got to weigh that in the balance very carefully as he approaches the next election.
Because at the end of the day, he's not going to be a true believer leaver, is he? He is going to be some sort of soft leaver or tacit remainer, because that's where his party is, and that's where the country's national economic interest is. So if he is going, in the meantime, to alienate remainers and alienate the very strong pro-European view within his own party and within his own organisation Momentum, then he's going to put a question mark over his own leadership.
They've got nowhere else to go.
And I think he's too clever to risk that.
And finally, Lord Mandelson, there's one last, very quick question I want to put to you, which is, take your mind back 30 years to Tony Benn's alternative economic strategy, which is a way of--
I don't want to.
--entirely ripping the capitalist system and bringing socialism into British democracy. Because I think this is rather-- because when Jeremy Corbyn went to Brussels this week, he was saying the neoliberal model is broken, and there needs to be an entirely new capitalist system. And in that alternative economic strategy, Tony Benn was advocating control of labour and control of capital. And you can't do either of those things when you're in the single market. Do you think this vision for an entirely different economic system is why Jeremy Corbyn is keen to leave the single market and the customs union, very briefly?
That might be have been his view. But he should have looked at the small print and realised that actually being in the European Union and the single market doesn't impose quite the constraints and doesn't circumscribe his policy scope in the way that he manages. But yes, it puts a backstop in place. And I think that's a good thing.
But at the end of the day, he has got to make up his mind on two things. One, what would be the disastrous and most damaging way for Britain to leave the European Union? And therefore, what should we make a priority of avoiding and working against?
And secondly, he has to work out-- he has radical economic policies and policies for greater income redistribution in our country. There's a very strong public demand for greater equality in our society. And he reflects that and articulates it. But being radical isn't enough. He's also got to be credible in his policies. And that's what's going to come under the spotlight increasingly as the next election approaches.
And that's it for this week's episode of FT Politics. Thank you very much to all my guests for joining. We'll be back next week for another instalment. Until then, thanks for listening.