Starmer is doing what any political leader has to do - GulfToday

Starmer is doing what any political leader has to do

Sean O'Grady

@_SeanOGrady

Associate Editor of the Independent.

Associate Editor of the Independent.

Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer

If there is one thing less popular than Brexit at the moment, it’s the idea of re-running the Brexit trauma of the last six years — but this time in reverse. Hence, I think, Keir Starmer’s peculiar position on the subject, which he has reiterated, greatly to the disappointment of rejoiners everywhere. He could not have been clearer: “There is no case for going back to the EU or going back into the single market. I do think there’s a case for a better Brexit.”

This is equally plainly odd, verging on the incredible, for a bloke who spent most of the last decade of his political life trying to keep the UK inside the EU or inside the single market. He wanted a second “final say” on the unsatisfactory terms of exit that Boris Johnson and David Frost negotiated.

Instead, the electorate in 2019 decided to put the “oven-ready deal” into the cooker and hope for the best. In many ways, we got the worst of all worlds – outside the EU trading zone but with no substantial countervailing new trade deals from elsewhere and no sign of any freedom to compete our way back to prosperity (which is in any case curtailed by the “level-playing-field” provisions in the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement).

Starmer seems as honourable a soul as any politician within touching distance of power, but he surely knows that rejoining the single market would provide an immediate boost to trade and growth, and take the pressure off the public finances and, thus, public services.

The arguments in favour of single market membership are no different today than they were in 2016 or 2021, and businesses would greatly welcome the move. They would be even more in favour of joining the EU itself, including the customs union, even though it would mean the new trade deals with Japan, Australia, New Zealand and others would have to be scrapped (with little practical change to trade anyway).

But the politics of Europe are still all wrong for Labour. The last thing Starmer needs — or the country desires — is to reopen the arguments and the wounds of the past. We simply cannot afford the divisions, the trauma, the uncertainty and the chaos. A move to rejoin the EU would require a fresh referendum — an appalling prospect for many. Joining the single market might not, but it would trigger another huge row, and invite claims that Labour is trying to take Britain back into the EU “by stealth”, except the noise would be so loud there wouldn’t be anything stealthy about it.

So we’re just left with cakeism a la Starmer — a “better Brexit”, the notion that the UK can have a closer, friendlier relationship with Europe and cooperate on more areas, but at zero cost in money or sovereignty. The idea, presumably, is that the UK could pick which EU education, science, research and schemes and easier trading rules suit the UK, but accept no obligations in return. Sounds familiar. It is exactly the kind of attempted British cherry-picking that the EU has shown itself to be hostile to for some years, and it won’t be fooled this time round.

Sensibly, to be fair, Starmer is offering something in return — cooperation on defence and security — but of course then he’ll be accused of wanting a European army.

The best thing for Starmer is to heed the once-wise words of David Cameron — stop banging on about Europe. He’s got his piecemeal plan to be nicer to the EU and to try and sort out the more intractable problems such as the Northern Ireland protocol.   There are many people now who regret supporting Brexit (this writer included) because it has produced all of the drawbacks of leaving the EU and none of the positives that could, conceivably and with some luck, have left the UK better off.

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