Starmer has embraced a position that used to be confined to the far right

In a recent article published in the Guardian, William Keegan pointed to some of the frustrations of Brexit. Members of the creative arts industry are witnessing the loss of benefits of freedom of movement and being stifled by the bureaucratic damage caused by Brexit. British manufacturers and the hospitality industry are struggling to find replacements for EU workers who feel unwelcome or have found better offers elsewhere, leading to detrimental effects on their businesses. British financiers and traders are faced with increasing regulations and limited overseas trade.

The visible damage caused by Brexit is growing daily, and the next stage of trade barriers will intensify the problems at the end of the year even more. It is not surprising, then, that many see Brexit as a failure and wish to reverse it. As suggested by the recent opinion poll for ‘Best for Britain’, which revealed that 63% think Brexit has caused more problems than it has solved and 53% want closer ties with the EU.

In this context, it is ironic, Keegan notes in this article , that the UK, whose politicians Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Cockfield were instrumental in creating the successful single market, would eventually give up its benefits through Brexit.

Equally ironic is that though Nigel Farage himself now admits that Brexit has failed, Keir Starmer’s position remains that of ‘making Brexit work’ – despite the fact that a majority of Labour supporters disagree with him.

There are at least two reasons why the Labour Party should seize the opportunity for rejoining. One is that reversing Brexit would bring clear and immediate economic benefits, allowing a larger economy and providing a basis for tax and spending plans, contrary to the government’s planned austerity measures. The second is that ultra-right-wing Brexiters are attempting to abandon thousands of EU laws, which would make negotiating re-entry more challenging. While Rishi Sunak has resisted their efforts, hard-line ERG members continue in their pursuits; unless the opportunity for re-joining is grasped now, it may soon disappear.

Keegan asks why the Labour party is perceived as being cautious and unclear on the issue of Brexit (an understatement if ever there was one!). As a former member of the Labour Party, I think I have the answer. It comes in three parts.

The first is that Starmer thinks that his stance is the best way to get himself elected: on the one hand, it won’t frighten off leavers in the former ‘red wall’ seats; on the other hand, remain-supporting Labour identifiers will vote for the party anyway given that the alternative is a Conservative party that also supports Brexit.

The strategy could well back fire. Given that he campaigned for remain, the Daily Mail and the Express will not be slow to suggest that he lacks credibility. Given that the alternative is a Conservative party whose credibility on Brexit is not in doubt, why would a convinced leaver vote Labour?

Second, like so many Labour leaders before him, Starmer has elevated opportunism to the level of a political principle, forgetting that while the function of political parties in a democracy is, yes, to represent public opinion, they also have a responsibility to lead it.

Third, in seeking to ‘make Brexit work’, Starmer has embraced a position that until very recently was confined to the lunatic fringes of the far right. During the referendum campaign not even Farage would have suggested a complete break from Europe.

From which follows my conclusion: it is precisely because of the loyalty of Labour voters that Starmer is able to get away with this depressing nonsense. Therefore, if Labour supporters with internationalist outlooks want genuinely progressive reform, they have to be prepared to rebel and support a party like Rejoin EU. Otherwise, I assure you, nothing will change. As the old adage has it: “If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

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