There was an intriguing contradiction in what Jeremy Corbyn just said to me about why Labour is now in favour of negotiating a customs union with the EU but is not supporting the UK rejoining the EU’s single market.
On a customs union - which would maintain tariff-free trade between the UK and the EU and a set of tariffs shared with the EU on trade with rest of the world - Corbyn said he wants this precisely because he believes he and the UK could negotiate better terms than those imposed on Turkey - which currently has such a customs union, but not an attractive one.
The flaws in the Turkish arrangement are that Turkey has no say on trade deals the EU negotiates with third parties, like South Korea, and it does not get the benefits of those deals (it cannot export to them free of tariffs) - but it does have to allow tariff-free imports from those those third-party countries (like South Korea, South Africa and so on).
In other words, for Turkey a customs union is a case of not having cake and not eating it.
Corbyn says the UK can do better than Turkey. He thinks that the EU would not only allow us to benefit from those third-party deals, but that it would give a Corbyn government a voice and vote over its trade policy.
It is possible the rest of the EU would give us these very valuable perks of being in their club without forcing on us the considerable costs and burdens of club membership.
But I would not bet my dinner money on it.
As for the single market, which sets common rules and standards for EU based businesses, he is ruling out continued membership of it precisely because he hates how Norway has almost no influence over those rules and standards, and he does not think the UK could negotiate a better deal than Norway.
Or at least that is what he said.
So on Corbyn’s view of the global distribution of power, the UK is a bit stronger and more influential than Turkey, and a bit less than Norway.
Hmmm. I am not sure that is quite right.
What it probably shows is that there is, as I said, a contradiction in Corbyn being in favour of being in a customs union and not in the single market.
That may in turn mean that sooner rather than later it will become obvious that the only practical and realistic options for the UK are to be in favor of membership of neither (the government’s position) or both (the position of many Labour and a few Tory rebels).