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Starmer draws line in the sand as he sets out Labour’s plan to “make Brexit work”

By Joe Cooper
05 July 2022

By Joe Cooper

Sir Keir Starmer sought to put any uncertainty over Labour’s position on Brexit to bed as he set out his plan to “make Brexit work.” Vowing to move on from focusing on the “arguments of the past,” Starmer confirmed that under Labour, Britain would not go back into the EU, nor would it seek to join the customs union or the single market.  

Providing the table dressing for his speech, Starmer said that the country had lost its sense of optimism and that in 2022 Britain was “stuck” with a ‘stagnant economy with flatlining wages’, ‘increased waiting lists for doctor’s appointments’, and with ‘broken public services that no longer work for those that they serve’.  

As is often the case with political communications, Starmer’s message was delivered in the form of a snappy five-point plan. This plan included: sorting out the Northern Ireland protocol, tearing down unnecessary barriers for business and trade, supporting Britain’s world-leading industries, ensuring that Britain is kept safe, and finally to invest in Britain. This is a plan, Starmer argued, which will “help to put the divisions of the past behind us” and in doing so reserve the “Tory spiral of low-growth and high-tax” as the country looks to tackle various ongoing crises.  

Over two years into his leadership, one of the criticisms most frequently levelled at Starmer’s Labour Party has been the lack of a concrete policy platform to support the party’s wider strategy. This speech was unlikely to allay any of those criticisms, though it did mark a significant break for both the party and Starmer himself.  

Brexit has been the elephant in the room for much of Starmer’s leadership. As Shadow Brexit Secretary, Starmer was viewed as being influential in the party’s push to eventually settle on a position of a second referendum going into the last election, and one which would play an influential role in the party’s comprehensive defeat in December 2019.  

Starmer’s reputation as the face of the second referendum is indeed something that the Conservatives have sought to capitalise on in his tenure as leader. With Starmer conceding that the debate is over and putting to bed any ideas that Labour would seek re-entry to the European Union, he will no doubt be hoping that this declaration blunts one of the attack lines expected to be used against him ahead of the next election, particularly as he aims to win back many of the Leave-voting areas across the UK in the ‘Red Wall’.  

The move will no doubt come as a disappointment to some within the Labour Party, who had hoped for a strengthening of the party’s commitment to European co-operation under Starmer’s leadership. Given the strength of feeling towards Brexit and the general willingness to move on from the argument that brought Parliament to a standstill, this move is a smart calculation from Starmer and one which he will hope draws a line in the sand as the party looks ahead to the next election.