Any realist knows that when you fight a battle you sometimes lose. If you refuse to fight when your opponents are determined to then you automatically do. Which makes Keir Starmer’s determination to embrace Brexit and refuse even to contemplate entering the single market all the more bizarre.
Poll after poll is showing that a strong majority of people in Britain now realise that Brexit was a mistake. Economic model after economic model has shown that lasting damage is being done to the nation’s prosperity. Yorkshire Bylines maintains its own record of the pros and cons that we have encountered after leaving. There aren’t many positives and the downsides just keep on mounting.
The negatives include the loss of the freedom to travel and work across the EU, increased paperwork and bureaucracy for British business trying to trade there, shortages of labour in key industries that has driven up the cost of living and mounting tensions in Northern Ireland.
Starmer’s Brexit will not solve Brexit’s problems
Incredibly, one of the boasts Starmer’s making is that with Labour getting Brexit done, these problems will somehow disappear. That is simply logically impossible. There is no way of improving those problems if Britain is not part of the EU and not interested in joining the single market. Any nation following different economic regulations to its neighbours has to encounter border controls over trade with those neighbours and increased paperwork.
That means that it isn’t just difficult for Starmer to solve the situation in Northern Ireland and leave Britain outside the single market. It is logically impossible. Either there are border controls between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic and there are angry republicans, or there are border controls between the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland and there are angry unionists. The only other choice is mass smuggling.
What is equally challenging is working out why the leader of the Labour Party has become so convinced that Brexit is a good thing that he has chosen to make a major commitment to voters to embrace it wholeheartedly. All the indications are that younger voters are the ones who are most strongly convinced that Brexit was a mistake and it is only amongst older voters that there is a significant majority who are doubling down on their faith in it.
That positions Brexit Labour as a party that will gradually decline in support as time goes on. It makes the party a bit like Woolworths: a store that once had a lot of customers but gradually found it couldn’t attract enough young people and so found it had fewer shoppers every year.
Will progressive voters abandon Labour?
In a great swathe of seats in areas that did well out of membership of the EU this makes it harder for Labour to win at the next election. Why would anyone who feels passionately about such a key issue give their vote to a party that has just given the public such very strong assurances that they consider even the possibility of joining the single market to be closed?
It is almost as if the Labour leader has decided that he cannot win such seats and needs instead to focus his attention on what he considers to be the real battle in the red wall seats. That seems a very strange choice but a very clear piece of branding.
In the last local elections in May the Conservatives took a serious pounding in every area that had doubts about Brexit as a magic solution to the nation’s problems. The only parts of the country where the Conservative Party vote went up was in strongly Brexit-supporting former industrial towns like Sunderland, Derby and parts of the Black Country. Chasing those votes at the expense of alienating voters in parts of the country where the majority of people have felt the downside of Brexit and want to get back to a much more positive relationship with the EU seems a strange choice for a party that claims to be progressive.
Indeed, large sections of the party membership believe in their bones this is a huge mistake and are worried sick about where it leaves the party’s future. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has taken a very clear position against Starmer’s sudden increase in enthusiasm for a dead end policy.
Miscalculated, short sighted and out of touch
Voters who think that Britain can go it alone and that there is still a prospect of creating a positive future for the country by using the much-vaunted freedoms of Brexit are being offered the chance to flock home to Labour. Many of those voters have embraced the idea as an issue of personal identity and are as difficult to shift in their new right-wing loyalties as a Trump enthusiast in rust-belt or mid-West America.
Voters who want to see Britain getting back its place at the heart of the EU will have to look elsewhere. This feels like a huge opportunity for the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru. It is hard to see how it represents one for Labour.
A year ago, I wrote that Starmer was dull without being worthy. Actions like this make that seem like a generous assessment. This feels like a dead-end strategy being peddled by an out-of-touch leader who has badly miscalculated the long-term best interests of the party he leads and the long-term best interests of the country. That doesn’t give much confidence that he can lead us all to a better future.