THE revelation that Sir Keir Starmer is a true believer in Britain’s place in the EU as a rule-taker, rather than as an independent rule-maker, has to be one of the least surprising in recent years. The Labour leader was among his progressive friends in Canada, sipping at Trudeau’s cup, and was filmed saying that ‘most of the conflict with the UK being outside of the [EU] arises insofar as the UK wants to diverge and do different things to the rest of our EU partners’. This is of course entirely true. It was when he followed it with: ‘Actually, we don’t want to diverge’ that fur began to fly. His use of the royal ‘we’ allowed Tory figures to jump up and down pointing and shouting, ‘Look, ma, look! He’s an unbeliever!’
The Conservatives, neck-deep in mire of their own extrusion, are desperate for any bit of rope to drag themselves out of the sucking electoral mud. James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, claimed it showed Sir Keir ‘wants to rejoin the EU in all but name’ and
Michael Gove echoingly told us that Starmer ‘wants to return us to the EU effectively’. But the simple fact is that the only difference between the current dismal Tory regime and that of Starmer’s Labour is that of rhetoric not of reality. In fact in many ways Starmer is being more honest.
Imagine, if you will, a government elected on a clear pledge to get Brexit done. The Tories got themselves returned with the sort of majority that politicians dream of. The mandate was clear. Get Brexit done. The scale of the victory was such that the incoming prime minister would have been entirely within his democratic rights to return to Brussels with the tattered remnants of the deal done by his predecessor and, pointing to the size of the majority, say in polite but firm terms: ‘That deal you cooked up has been rejected by the British electorate. I know it, you know it, democracy is on our side. This agreement needs to change.’
The Tories could have threatened a confirmatory vote which at the time and without doubt would have brought a result far wider than the infamous 52-48. They were in power; they could have used that power in the way that Cameron had for Remain. The financial playing field would have been even – trust me here – the vote would have been nearer 60-40 to stay out.
Instead what did the Conservatives do? Under Boris Johnson they immediately signed the Withdrawal Agreement which condemned Northern Ireland to remain under the suzerainty of Brussels and under clear threat of future annexation.
So much for getting Brexit done. Scroll forward to the government of Sunak and look again at its actions, and not the schoolyard rhetoric of its greatest orators. This government is doing its level best not to diverge from the EU. In recent months we have seen that it has decided, against its manifesto promises to the contrary, to retain great swathes of EU law. Cleverly it gave the job of dropping the commitment to Kemi Badenoch, once the great hope of the Eurosceptic wing of the party, thus undermining her ability to build her own support base. Instead of the great change, now only 600 of the many thousands of EU regulations will be dropped.
The promise of creating a UK-specific safety certification has been dropped and we will stay within the EU’s version of the same.
With great fanfare the UK has rejoined the European Horizon programme rather than focusing on academic R&D of our own. There is no doubt that soon the pressure to rejoin the EU’s Erasmus education programme will be unstoppable. We have postponed the introduction of custom checks yet again. When it comes to voting, all EU citizens who arrived before 2020 will have the vote in local and regional elections, despite the fact that only four EU nations have reciprocated.
Most recently we have fallen into line with the EU on the end date for petrol and diesel engines. The opportunity had presented itself to dump the absurd Net Zero regulations and free our own industrial base, helping the domestic economy and the personal economy of the poorest in society. Instead, we are following the lead of Germany and France by just pushing back the date from 2030 to 2035. Now we hear that Sunak’s government is contemplating replacing the British A-level system with a European-style Baccalaureate.
When senior Conservatives claim that Starmer personally believes the UK should rejoin the European Union, do take it with a pinch of salt. It’s not that he doesn’t: he always did. It’s just that the Tories with their massive majority are the ones in power, and it is they who are not diverging from the EU. It is they who are realigning the UK with the EU despite their protestations. It is they who are paving the way for Rejoin.
You cannot blame Labour for that.