I wasn’t surprised but I was upset to hear Keir Starmer break with Labour’s General Election manifesto commitments and indeed the motions passed by the Labour Conference regarding Europe.
Keir Starmer has abandoned the commitment of free movement in the EU, a promise he made to Labour members during the party’s leadership contest. He said that Labour had to be honest with the public and added that if it won the next general election a major renegotiation of the Brexit treaty would not be possible.
When he was standing for the Labour leadership, Starmer had said that he would “defend free movement” as the UK left the EU. Back in 2019, he had also said that he would bring back free movement of EU citizens in the UK. However, now Starmer has ruled out the sort of extensive renegotiation of the Brexit that would be required to restore free movement.
When speaking to BBC, Starmer said he doesn’t think there’s scope for major renegotiation. He said that after four years, the UK has arrived at a treaty and now they’ve got to make that deal work. He added that there were, however, aspects of the agreement that might be improved on, including how it covered the creative industries and what it did for the service sector, which he said had largely been left out.
The Labour leader said that it was not realistic to pretend that the EU would want to negotiate a new Brexit agreement with the UK. He said that whether his party members like it or not, it is going to be the treaty that an incoming Labour government inherits and has to make work. It is worth noting that free movement became an issue in the leadership campaign after the party conference backed the principle in autumn 2019. The commitment was linked to defending migrants’ rights, but it also contradicted previous party comments saying free movements would end if the UK left the EU.
I disagree with Starmer on this matter. There are many in Europe who would welcome back the UK if we came with open minds and a willingness to engage properly with the EU’s principles and commitments.
I wasn’t surprised by Starmer’s statements because Labour has always been two faced about Europe. Corbyn and his clique clearly saw it as a capitalist conspiracy conspiring to bring down workers wages and condition. In the real world however, it did just the opposite. It began to bring decent worker’s rights to the workers of the UK and gave protection around a host of environmental and health and safety concerns.
Labour refused to join with the other pro-Europe Parties such as the Lib Dems and the Greens in a united Remain campaign at the referendum. Indeed, Corbyn went on holiday during a crucial week long period of campaigning. On more than 20 occasions since 2016 when they could have made a stand and in some cases brought the Government down on EU issues alongside the Lib Dems, Nationalists and Tory dissidents they sat on their hands allowed retrograde EU measures through.
I can think of no good reason for Starmer ignoring his own and his Party’s pledges at this time. Everyone is beginning to see the effects of this reckless Brexit. Northern Ireland particularly is facing shortages of basic supplies. After an initial build-up of stock in a whole range of activities the increased and uncertain problems of bureaucracy is preventing everything from car components to fresh food from getting through.
Twitter and radio call shows are full of complaints from people who have found that the cost of importing and exporting to and from continental Europe has doubled or trebled delivery charges to make some elements of trade unsustainable even though there is no duty payable.
Cheese makers and fishing folk have found that despite the no tariffs of the agreement a whole range of regulations, many of them almost incomprehensible, have prevented them making cost effective deliveries of products not just to continental Europe but to the rest of the world as well.
Now is the time to put that awareness to god effect and recruit people to the cause of internationalism. Instead Starmer does a ‘Grand old Duke of York’ impersonation and, having marched his troops to the top of the hill has marched them down again. He and the majority of his Party voted for Brexit on 30 December. Now they must own Brexit alongside their Tory mates.
During the period between the referendum and last December I was pleased to go to meeting after meeting and speak alongside Labour people like Theresa Griffin, Maria Eagle, Louise Ellman, Cllr Nick Small and many more. I know that people like Cllr Paul Brant feel as passionately about Erasmus, the free movement of Labour and the opportunities and benefits of European Union membership as I do.
What they will do about it is up to them. Will they work within their Party to try and change what is a fundamental movement away from a basic Labour principle or will they just roll over?
I know what I and my Party will do. At our Conference last September, we overwhelmingly backed a Rejoin motion. Because our policy is made by our Party members that is what we will do, say and campaign for. I expect that ‘Rejoin’ will be part of our manifesto whenever the next General Election is held.
In Liverpool, Lib Dems will continue to ensure that we examine and support the relationships between the City and Europe in any way possible. We know and will always remember that we are a major European City. We are now outside the EU but would do much better inside it. That is a fact that more and more people are beginning to see.
If we have to take on the Liverpool Labour Party as well as Starmer’s Tory mates to do that – so be it!