The Brexit negotiations will shape Britain for many years to come.
Just as our membership of the EU helped define our economy, society and place in the world for more than four decades, so the decision to leave will define us for the foreseeable future.
Ensuring we have the best possible Brexit deal will take time, effort and huge diplomatic skill. It also requires very clear objectives.
Labour accepts and respects the outcome of the referendum, but that does not mean that defining the terms upon which we leave the EU should be left in the hands of an increasingly high-handed and inscrutable government led by Theresa May.
This is not the time for progressives to leave the stage. It is time for progressives to stake out a bold and radical vision of the future that works for everyone.
As Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, I know how vital it is that Labour plays a central role in this – respecting the referendum result, holding the Government to account and arguing for a cooperative, collaborative Brexit that puts jobs, the economy and living standards first and builds a new and strong relationship with our European partners.
That means preserving our ability to trade in goods and services with a market of 500 million people; it means valuing joint scientific, educational and cultural work with our EU partners; and it means continued co-operation in fundamental areas such as the fight against organised crime and terrorism, environmental protection and corporate responsibility.
It means putting jobs and the economy first, while recognising that the way freedom of movement rules currently operate in the UK will have to be part of the Brexit negotiations. In particular, the government must ensure that a final Brexit deal enables all businesses – large and small – to have arrangements that are free of tariffs and bureaucratic impediments. If the government are able to make that very welcome assurance to Nissan, they need to do so for businesses across the UK.
But if Labour – and progressives more widely – are to win a fair hearing for our vision of the future, we must be able confidently to articulate what a progressive approach to Brexit looks like and what principles underpin it.
That is why this pamphlet from Open Britain and the Fabian Society is so timely.
The pamphlet identifies the need to retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union, to protect EU-derived rights and environmental protections, and to win consent for the terms of Brexit from Parliament and across the UK. It also rightly highlights the need for a ‘new deal on free movement, while retaining the benefits of the single market’.
Crucially, the pamphlet also recognises the need for any Brexit deal to be accompanied by wide and bold domestic reform of the way our economy works – in particular to tackle economic exclusion, inequality, and the chronic skills gap that continues to hold back the British economy and British businesses.
This matters, because progressives cannot simply offer a process-driven response to Brexit. There needs to be a much bigger, more comprehensive offer that seeks to build a fairer economy, a better politics, and more empowered communities.
In setting out six principles in the hope that they will find support across the Labour Movement, Open Britain and the Fabian Society have taken a welcome and much-needed first step on the road to a progressive redefinition of our future.
Labour will be a leading voice in the debate that must now follow; the answers to the challenges ahead lie in our values of solidarity, equality and social justice, coupled with an enduring commitment to human rights and internationalism.
The Shadow Brexit team have co-authored this foreword, which appears in the new Fabian Society and Open Britain report, Progressive Principles for Brexit Negotiations.