Previously in this series we have looked mostly at problems confronting attempts to join the EU again. But of course it is with an incoming Labour government that our hopes must lie.
Starmer will have to confront relations with the EU as a priority. Among the pernicious claims about Brexit, one of the silliest is “Make Brexit work!” It is all the sillier because it comes from Keir Starmer. He isn’t a stupid man, but he sometimes says stupid things. Or just far-fetched. He sets out ideas to “build on” the existing Trade and Co-operation Agreement, in pursuit of a closer trading relationship. But the EU doesn’t see it this way at all and has no intention of revisiting the already agreed trade terms. Once again, Britain isn’t listening and is determined that our way will prevail. That old British exceptionalism again. Not a good look for a new leader who needs to impress.
But at least we can expect better from Starmer than the Johnson embarrassments, though, at the moment, the EU doesn’t know what to make of him. We hear, off-the-record, from diplomatic observers that he is seen as rather a dull dog, but that might be a welcome change after recent years. A leader who realises it’s not all about him.
Starmer cheered on by a few Express readers
His welcome in Brussels is bound to be warm. That and the comfort of being safely ensconced in No.10 may begin to change his views, whatever they really are. Is he really still the internationalist pro-EU politician he always was? Is his perverse policy on Brexit just a ruse, and if so, how does he explain this to a public who are already fed up with being lied to?
Because we have to wonder, as the dust settles after the general election, where other support for Brexit will come from. Not from voters. For two years, the polls have shown a growing exasperation with it. Little from the Tories, who will be reduced to a rump, riven by in-fighting, with no plausibility left for their ideas on Europe. The Liberal Democrats are as timid on Brexit as Labour and will succumb. And much of the pro-Brexit press will buckle under without parliamentary support. So, Labour might find itself in what one would like to think they would find as the embarrassing position of being the sole remaining champions of a catastrophically failing Brexit, cheered on by only a few Express readers.
No Brexit support left means bowing to the “bleedn’ obvious”
Here the responsibility for bringing about change lies with Labour Party members and, in particular, all those new MPs. Whether Starmer wins with a slim majority or a huge landslide, there are forces which would suit pro-EU purposes.
A slim majority or a hung parliament would mean Starmer has no option but to work with others, and once the Tory bogeyman is seen off and the press have lost their parliamentary fellow conspirators, he will find little support for his present stance among other parties.
Then, as Brexit continues to bite and the country slumps, with no voice any more raised in its support, how can Starmer do otherwise than accommodate what one might call the “bleedin’ obvious”?
On the other hand, a huge majority wouldn’t be an untrammelled blessing for Starmer either. With a majority of, say, nearly a couple of hundred, that would leave an awful lot of idealistic new MPs sitting on their hands, with no chance of preferment and with nothing to do but stir up trouble in the tea rooms. Appeals by the whips to toe the line would mean little, since there would be no serious opposition outside the party. Thatcher was warned of the dangers of an unstable large majority. She scoffed at the idea and look what happened to her.
Proportional representation offers the way back
So, opposition would emerge from within. And the most obvious fault line would be over Brexit, and the prospect of joining the EU again. Would Starmer really go to war with half of his party, in defence of a policy which was bankrupting the country, had little support and was a threat to his government?
One more thing. The EU will be looking for signs that any change in British attitudes is real, and there will be no ‘revolving door’ in which the next government harks back to Brexit. One move they would find encouraging would be the introduction of proportional representation, since that would militate against the kind of putsch which saw the Tory right grab power.
Starmer has refused to discuss it. He says the electorate aren’t interested. He has far too much on his plate. But it would probably ensure there would never again be a Tory majority government. It would satisfy the large majority of the party’s members who now support it. The EU would feel reassured and become more ameliorating in their discussions. And if he were looking for a way out of the Brexit hole he has dug for himself, PR could provide it.
One of the problems Starmer will have to confront is divergence between Britain and the EU. Next Friday we look at the EU Green Deal and how the UK may be falling behind.
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