September 28th, 2022
Whether the Labour leader likes it or not, the debate in 2024 will be over maximising Britain’s independence from the EU
Keir Starmer marching at the front of a pro-Remain demo
Keir Starmer’s assertion that he intends to make Brexit work is little more than reassuring waffle. Being uncontroversial, it won’t split the Labour Party’s base.
It implies that he believes Brexit is done and that no more work is required. But while we have left the EU, there’s so much more to do to harness Brexit’s potential to boost Britain’s economic performance.
Boris Johnson knew this even if Keir Starmer does not. It seems a lifetime ago now, but when Boris was elected with a massive mandate less than three years ago, his first task was to leave the EU while successfully negotiating a free-trade agreement to avoid a damaging rupture to the economy. Nearly every commentator said this would be impossible without remaining in the Single Market. That would have been unacceptable as it would have meant Britain acceding to all the EU’s accompanying rules and regulations.
Despite the massive hurdles, despite the naysayers – almost as many in the Conservative Party as Starmer’s Labour – the impossible was achieved.
But that was just stage one in the Brexit process.
The next step was to take full advantage of Britain’s new independence. But the Covid pandemic, the resultant lockdown, and a spell in intensive care diverted the course of the former prime minister and his government, which became preoccupied with more immediate crises.
Now, just three weeks into her stay in No10, Liz Truss and her team have picked up the baton left by Boris Johnson.
When a television journalist in Downing Street last week shouted, “Planning on Singapore-on-Thames, Prime Minister?”, he wasn’t far wrong. When they left the far larger Malaysian Federation, Singapore knew that to succeed as an island nation, it would have to take decisive action. A bonfire of regulations and other changes made Singapore the success it is today.
Of course, it’s fashionable in Labour circles to sneer at Singapore. Yet in 2020, Bloomberg ranked Singapore first in the world for effective healthcare. And the same goes for education, which is near the top of all international comparisons. Ninety-seven per cent of all Singapore students continue in education after 18.
While a western European nation like the UK would not want to travel down exactly the same path as Singapore, just doing nothing would squander the legacy of Brexit.
But Keir Starmer’s refusal to make Brexit changes would do just that. Whether or not he believes that more needs to be done to take full advantage of the freedoms won by Brexit is irrelevant. He knows that any attempt to change regulations in the UK would rend schisms through the Labour Party base, most of which opposes everything Brexit stands for.
So while Liz Truss is now vigorously pursuing an economic policy that would eliminate most EU regulations by introducing sunset clauses requiring government departments to argue actively to keep them on the statute books, Labour would most likely retain them all. Deregulation is an anathema to most Labour backbenchers and to the majority of the shadow Cabinet. Starmer’s hands are tied, even if he wanted to make progressive changes.
Reducing business taxes, cutting non-wage labour costs, and encouraging high-wage earners to come to the UK are also off the agenda for any Labour government.
Of course, companies still invest in the UK in preference to the EU for our language, work ethic, and ease of communications. But to take full advantage of Brexit, the Government needs to provide an impetus which a Labour administration is unable to deliver.
Red Wall voters want red meat
Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-Budget was a step in the right direction, despite the market instability that has ensued. If that improves and the pound rises, Labour’s opinion poll lead will soon evaporate. Keir Starmer is no Tony Blair and this is not 1997.
Red Wall voters want red meat, and that means taking full advantage of Brexit. Whether Starmer likes it or not, the general election in 2024 will be fought over Brexit.
Labour’s Brexit cakeism is unsustainable. It will be torn apart under general election scrutiny. Starmer’s call for social democracy is totally incompatible with a deregulated, low-tax economy which the Conservatives are now finally delivering. The electorate will see through Starmer’s balancing act.