What Keir Starmer Isn’t Telling Us About His Plan for a ‘Better Brexit’
The Labour Leader is not being honest about the impact of Britain’s decision to leave the EU, writes Adam Bienkov
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It’s now clear that the British people have turned against Brexit. Recent polls suggest that a significant majority of voters now believe it was a mistake, with around 60% saying they would opt to rejoin the EU.
As a result, voters increasingly expect their politicians to change course. Exclusive new polling for Byline today reveals that a plurality of voters now expect a future Labour government to take the UK back into the EU.
Expectations among Labour voters are particularly high. According to our poll, conducted by pollsters Omnisis, 47% of those planning to back Starmer’s party say they believe the Labour Leader will take Britain back into the EU, compared to just 28% who do not.
Doing so would be popular. Among all voters, 65% said that they would be either more likely to vote Labour if it backed rejoining the EU, or that it would make no difference to their vote.
Yet, as the public moves in one direction, Starmer’s party appears to be moving in the complete opposite direction.
Despite rising public demand for reunification, Keir Starmer told the BBC this week that he believed there was “no case” for rejoining either the EU, or the Single Market, and insisted that doing so would be in reality be of no benefit to the UK economy.
Asked if rejoining the Single Market would boost economic growth, Starmer replied that “no, at this stage I don’t think it would”.
He then went further, arguing that “there’s no case for going back to the EU or going back into the Single Market”.
Pushed by Byline Times to point to any economist who agrees with this claim, Starmer’s spokespeople were unable to do so. However, they suggested that attempting to rejoin the Single Market could actually damage the economy due to the uncertainty caused by years of “wrangling” with Brussels.
“Keir in that interview was making clear that out priority is stabilising the economy and providing certainty to business,” the spokesperson said. “And opening up potentially years of wrangling and renegotiation of the Single Market [wouldn’t help].”
Unfortunately these comments avoid the simple fact that such ‘wrangling’ is exactly what Labour is already committed to.
Under Starmer’s existing five-point plan to ‘make Brexit work’ the party would seek to renegotiate large parts of the UK’s current relationship with the UK, including the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Starmer is also committed to “eliminating most border checks” with Europe, as well as negotiating a “new veterinary agreement for agri-products” and “mutual recognition of professional qualifications”.
Whatever happens a Labour Government would be immediately engaged in extensive “wrangling” with Brussels for years to come.
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Not Being Straight With EU
In some ways, Starmer’s claimed new Euroscepticism is not entirely surprising. Those around the Labour leader believe that the party’s position on a second referendum cost the party badly at the last general election and believe that changing course now is essential to winning back the so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats they lost in 2019.
Yet while it is possible to argue that ruling out a return to the EU makes political sense for Labour, it is much harder to argue that it makes economic sense.
The Government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that leaving the EU and Single Market is on course to shrink the potential size of the UK economy by 4%, with European trade already shrinking by 15%.
Last month as living standards took their biggest fall on record, the Institute for Fiscal Studies described Brexit as an obvious “own goal”.
“Very clearly Brexit was an economic own goal”, the IFS’ Director Paul Johnson said.
“Economically speaking, that has been very bad news indeed and continues to be bad news.”
Faced with another decade of low growth, the economic case for reconnecting with Europe is becoming increasingly clear.
Yet rather than be open and straightforward about this, Starmer is instead seeking to claim that returning to the folds of the EU would somehow harm the UK economy further.
The political motivations for Starmer’s claimed Euroscepticism are clear. However, it is also at odds with both the wishes and beliefs of his own voters.
It is also at odds with the reality of what a Labour Government would likely do once in office. Once you look beyond the rhetoric, the details of what Labour are promising suggest that a Starmer administration would seek to forge significantly closer relations with Europe.
And while wholesale rejoining of the EU may be unlikely in the short to medium term, the prospect of the UK falling progressively further into Europe’s orbit, under a Labour Government, seems overwhelmingly likely.
As our polling shows, this is what voters both want and expect. Yet by dressing his plans in the language of a “better Brexit” Starmer risks misleading the public about what he is really planning.
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