Labour’s chief Brexit spokesman outlined Labour’s demands for a Tory Brexit deal on Monday. Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer outlined six conditions upon which Labour’s support for the final exit agreement rests, ahead of the Prime Minister triggering Article 50 on Wednesday. Quick to attack an isolationist Brexiteer mentality at work in the Conservative party, Starmer’s speech at Chatham House charged Theresa May with the task of securing a “collaborative future relationship with the EU,” and “fair management of migration.” The negotiations are set to take place over the next two years, with a final deal promised by May 2019.
In a politically risky move, Labour has targeted Brexit Secretary David Davis’ claims that the “exact same benefits” of single market membership can be attained after the UK withdraws from the EU. Given the slim chances of staying in the single market, demanding a Brexit deal which maintains these benefits sets up the May government for an inevitable failure. A failure that Starmer says “will affect how Labour votes in the House of Commons,” the blame for which “will lie squarely at the government’s door.” Yet he also predicts that the two-year negotiation period will fall short when it comes to securing these benefits. In other words, the Conservatives claim they can attain the unattainable, and Labour plan to exploit that fact.
Managed immigration was front and centre of Starmer’s “alternative vision” of the UK’s future in Europe. After a turbulent few months of toing and froing on immigration policy, and mixed messages from the top office, this brief statement looked like a well-plotted map of Labour’s Brexit approach. Heralding Labour as the party to offer a “proper interpretation of the mandate,” Starmer spoke of the need to protect communities and the economy through immigration reform. National security and working and environmental rights were also listed as priorities.
Sensible it may seem, there is still something lacking in the Labour party’s approach to the new dividing lines in British politics. The party needs a narrative on nationalism that goes to the heart of public distaste for politicians and politics, and Starmer’s six-point checklist isn’t that. Failure to meet these conditions is an inevitability, and whilst Labour will relish the ammunition this provides in the House of Commons, out in the country people are not listening. The final demand – a Brexit that delivers to all region and nations of the UK – highlights Labour’s own ineptitude when it comes to bridging this divide.
“Responsibility lies with the Prime Minister to bring the country together, not drive to it further apart,” insists Starmer. Yet with Labour sinking in the polls and blighted by SNP dominance in Scotland, and the prospect of an early general election on the cards, Theresa May could shrug off Labour’s condemnation of her Brexit strategy with ease.
Photograph: Ed Everett via flickr.