UK Labour and the EU Single Market: ‘Social Europe’ or ‘Capitalist Club’?

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Series Details Volume 91, Number 2, Pages 430-441
Publication Date April-June 2020
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This article looks at the UK Labour Party’s view of the EU single market over the last four decades, focussing on three case study periods when this issue was particularly salient: first, the time of the single market’s introduction under Neil Kinnock’s leadership; second, the A8 accession with Tony Blair as Labour Prime Minister; and third, between the 2016 European referendum and 2019 general election during Jeremy Corbyn’s time as party leader.

This historical narrative uses the theoretical approach of Harvard economist Dani Rodrik—of a ‘trilemma’ faced by national policy makers in response to globalisation—as a lens to describe a clear arc in Labour’s policy towards the single market across the three case studies. A position of initial scepticism moved to support under Kinnock’s leadership, and then active encouragement under Blair, before coming back again under Corbyn to uncomfortable non‐commitment. This arc directly correlates with the ebb and flow of the party’s overall economic approach—first the Keynesian, national Alternative Economic Strategy at the time of the party’s 1983 general election defeat; then, the deviation under Blair to a policy that actively encouraged cross‐border market liberalisation; and finally the return to an Alternative Economic Strategy‐style approach under Corbyn.

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