UK’s Labour Party risks losing votes by promising to make Brexit work
Many people in Britain cannot wait to see the back of the current government and the end of Conservative Party rule, which has lasted for 13 years so far and has largely been characterized by austerity policies that damaged society and the economy, the historic 2016 referendum on leaving the EU, and the UK’s subsequent exit from the bloc via a less than favorable trade and cooperation agreement. This has taken its toll on everything in the country and has increasingly pushed Brits on all sides of the political spectrum to express reservations about the whole Brexit project, according to recent polls.
And while the opposition Labour Party is performing better in the polls, with a long-held lead of several points over the ruling Conservatives, the declaration by its leader Sir Keir Starmer that “Britain’s future is outside the EU” — confirming that Labour, when in power, will not seek to rejoin the bloc — might play against the party and make some part of the electorate hesitant to back Labour at a time when it will need every vote to win a comfortable majority.
Starmer, in a bid to appeal to Middle England’s ex-Labour voters, insisted in an article published in the Daily Express last week that, under his leadership, Britain’s future will not be “in the single market, not in the customs union, not with a return to freedom of movement,” which was afforded to EU citizens when the UK was part of the EU. Instead, he wants to make Brexit work by delivering “a better health service, better jobs, better wages, more security” and, of course, fewer migrants. But in so doing, Starmer risks alienating the large part of the electorate that believes Brexit has been a mistake. He also risks failing to seize the moment and the political opportunity to show his leadership mettle and fixing Brexit by putting forward a plan to maybe consult the nation on potentially rejoining.
Starmer is missing the chance and Labour might regret it. The opinion polls have been showing that a clear majority of respondents think Brexit was a mistake. Even key Brexiteer Nigel Farage admitted recently that “Brexit has failed.” A recent YouGov poll found that just a fifth of Brexiteers think Brexit has been “more of a success,” while 62 percent of those polled believe that it has been “more of a failure.” In ruling out something that could help the country rebound after the self-inflicted wound of Brexit, Starmer is risking disappointing the 86 percent of Labour voters who say that the UK was wrong to leave in the first place.
In his Daily Express article, Starmer sounded more like one of the many disgruntled Conservatives who believe that their successive governments have failed to manage Brexit properly or have lacked a vision for what to do after exiting the EU. He claimed that, “if we are to make Brexit work, we need a government with the vision and the focus to deliver it,” alluding to a mindset that the project was good in essence but had only suffered due to mismanagement at the hands of euroskeptic Tories.
Brexit has merely given a slim section of society some meaningless sovereignty at the expense of economic prosperity for all.
Not a single day passes British people by without them hearing news about the damage caused to their lives as a result of Brexit. Lately, British factories have reported a 16th consecutive month of falling exports, with manufacturers saying that obstacles to trade in post-Brexit Britain are undermining business relationships with firms on the continent.
In his article, Starmer acknowledged that “British businesses and households need stability and certainty.” He highlighted warnings from the UK car industry that their future was under threat, while he has also admitted that scientists and researchers face uncertainties, just like we have heard over previous months from farmers, the fishing industry and the hospitality and service sectors. The shortfalls of Brexit were always there for the world to see and the latest to call Brexit a “historic economic error” was former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who said that it had damaged the UK economy and helped to drive inflation higher.
Ahead of the Brexit referendum, a large section of voters were duped into believing, wrongly, that the country’s tax burden would be lowered, that the NHS would benefit from the hundreds of millions of pounds that were being sent to the EU every week and that the wages of skilled workers would go up, as the EU citizens taking British jobs would not be there any longer. However, many have since noticed that voting for Brexit has merely given a slim section of society some meaningless sovereignty at the expense of economic prosperity for all.
The leader of the opposition is also banking on the goodwill of Europeans to fix the damage caused by Brexit if and when he forms a government. And, yes, maybe he was right that Brexit has been badly executed due to the problematic leaderships of successive Conservative prime ministers, from Theresa May to Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. However, unfortunately the situation does not simply need another deal or a review of procedures in Brussels. It needs a shift in mindset to undo this wrong and a leadership unafraid to share the truth with the electorate about the way forward.
Brexit was a radical step and, to undo that, maybe Starmer should adopt what Prime Minister Sunak, an avid Brexiteer, said to the unionists in Northern Ireland: That, by being in the UK while still having access to the EU’s single market, the province has the best of both worlds. That is what Britain had when it was in the EU — the best of both worlds — and Starmer should not shy away from expressing the benefits of that abandoned union now that its adversities are in plain sight and are only likely to intensify further when the next stage of trade barriers come into force at the end of this year.
• Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist, media consultant and trainer with more than 25 years of experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy.