Like each and every part of British politics, the Labour Party is confused and divided in its approach to our future trading relationship with the European Union.
The objective must be to maximise the open exchange of goods and services in order to ensure the futures of our manufacturing and service industries. In Wales, in particular, we have competitive manufacturing businesses in, for instance, metals, automotive and aeronautic manufacture, pharmaceuticals – all of which require open access to the European market for their future.
At the same time, as socialists, we want to provide protections for workers and the environment, ensuring that there is no Tory led ‘race to the bottom’ in a search for trade agreements in Asia and the Americas.
And yet, there are those who claim that continued access to the European single market causes problems for socialists because of European regulation on ‘state aid’.
These regulations which are intended to ensure that markets are not distorted through governments giving unfair advantage to one organisation over another in another country. As an example, state aid regulations ensure that steel producing organisations in Wales are not ‘undercut’ by steel producers elsewhere in Europe being unfairly aided by other governments. It is impossible to imagine any trade agreement which does not include such provisions.
Within the single market, governments support businesses. They provide training. They foster research and development. They provide supportive locations. They contract for goods and services with requirements for the local sourcing of labour and supplies. All this is possible so long as it does not favour a specific business or country.
It is a myth that the single market requires the privatisation of public services. If a government chooses to procure a service above a specified value then any organisation in the single market can offer to provide. However if a government chooses to provide a service through its own resources then there is no market and there are no competition requirements and no state aid regulations.
At least since the 16th century the British relationship with Europe has needed to be seen through the prism of our relationship with the island of Ireland. It is now clear that the free flow of people, goods and services across the island of Ireland requires British membership of the European Single Market. There is no good reason why state aid regulations should inhibit a British socialist from accepting this fact.