Starmer needs to make Labour's position clear

Peter Kenyon looks forward to a dismal future for Britain and its children post-Brexit

Labour remainers are engaged in one last bid to persuade Labour Party leader Keir Starmer to speak out about Brexit. It is a difficult ask. The new leadership wants the Tories to own the issue. But how to fix that in the minds of voters?

As the Coronavirus pandemic has dragged on Starmer’s standing in the polls has soared, while prime minister Boris Johnson’s has slumped. But we have not seen any public clamour for a rethink on our future relationship with the European Union. By the time you read this a fateful date will have passed – 30 June 2020. In law that is the last day after which the Transition Period – which keeps the UK aligned economically and culturally with the other 27 member states – cannot be extended. Brexit will be done on 31 December 2020, maybe.

To date, Starmer’s minders – the people who conceive, execute and control the messaging of the party’s new leader – have discouraged him from saying anything that might be used by the Tories/Brexiteers to label him a ‘Remoaner’. The idea of being seen by the electorate of appearing to reopen the Brexit debate is anathema. His electoral strategy is focused on making Labour the winner of the next general election, even though it is four years away, maybe.

Does that mean he says nothing about extending the Transition Period? Well, maybe.

What will future generations think of the largest opposition party in UK politics failing to oppose one of the most self-destructive economic, social and cultural policy decisions in history?

That was Brexit before coronavirus. Three months on since the UK government belatedly started to take the risks to public health seriously, there are already millions of people out of work, and millions more whose livelihoods are at risk.

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, under its new leader, adopted a constructive stance. Significant changes to government policy to pay employers money to keep staff on payroll have been secured by shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds. But billions of pounds have still been loaned to British companies, some of whom are not even registered to pay tax in the UK – an anomaly not allowed by the Scottish or Welsh governments.

Despite these harsh economic realities of the pandemic, Johnson is still hellbent on crashing out of the EU without a deal. That means maximum divergence from EU regulations, maximum trading disruption to manufacturing and agriculture.

It seems inconceivable that Starmer is being advised to remain shtum, other than to remind the electorate of Johnson’s promise to secure a deal by the end of this year.

At the time of writing efforts are underway behind the scenes to encourage him to take the opportunity to remind voters of what is at stake and what Labour’s position would be. Labour Business (an affiliated socialist society of the Labour Party in which I must declare an interest as a member) has submitted a paper setting out the case for speaking out more loudly now that 30 June has passed without an agreement on extending the transition period.

Ten principles have been set out for future trade deals under Labour covering all the benefits of workers, consumers, and environmental protections that we have hitherto enjoyed as EU citizens. Labour should place them on the public record.

Starmer needs to make a statement, without necessarily calling for an extension, about the consequences of Johnson’s plate-spinning. Lastly, now is the time to remind voters that there is no sector of the economy that will benefit from maximum divergence except the disaster capitalists represented by the current Cabinet.

In framing a starker set of messages about the future, they will need to be targeted at those newly-elected Tory MPs from so-called ‘red wall’ seats. Make them squirm. Unbelievably, they won their seats with promises of hope. What hope can there be for their constituents and their children when their local manufacturing base is having its heart ripped out by the Tories? Divergence from the EU means just-in-time supply chains will be wrecked with delays at ports, and the risk of tariffs. This is just one of the consequences of Johnson’s ‘fuck business’ policy. Agriculture is similarly at risk.

Following the 2019 General Election there is no easy way back for the UK. Our reputation as a country has been trashed by the Tories. Starmer has already concluded there is no point in a promise to reapply for EU membership in 2024, if Labour defeats the Tories. He is right – no one trusts the British government any longer. There will have to be major constitutional change to underwrite stable rational government in the UK (if it still exists in 2024) before the EU27 (or more) will welcome a fresh application for EU membership from Westminster. In addition, future generations of Britons will have to want to drop sterling as the national currency and adopt the euro, and embrace free movement as part of the Schengen area.

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