Sometimes in politics puzzles arise to which there are no right answers. So in January, Keir Starmer had to decide whether Labor should vote for Boris Johnson’s flawed and limited Brexit deal, knowing that the only alternative was to not have a deal. To the dismay of the most ardent Remainers of Labor, he made the courageous decision to do so, but with this warning to the Prime Minister: We will hold you accountable. Every second you are in power. For the promises you made. And the promises you break.
The problem is, far from holding Johnson to account, Starmer appears to have taken a Trappist vow of silence on anything remotely connected to Brexit.He failed to defend the thousands of companies whose exports to the EU have collided a maze of bureaucracy and regulation far worse than that which post-Brexit Britain would have eluded from companies that may now, ironically, have to move their operations to the EU in order to survive.
He failed to defend the financial services sector which, despite all its flaws, accounts for 7 percent of UK GDP but was offered no protection whatsoever by the Johnsons agreement. As a result, the city is losing business and well-paying jobs to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris and Dublin.
He failed to express the anger of the artists and musicians who can no longer perform in Europe without visas and work permits; the meat and seafood industries whose products perish in ports before they can reach their old markets in the EU; the British auto giant and other manufacturers whose supplies of components and raw materials have been severely disrupted; from a host of other carriers, fashionistas, silk sellers, cheese exporters, glass eel breeders whose livelihoods have been destroyed by Brexit.
He has failed to expose the void of those government promises of frictionless trade, a pent-up tidal wave of investment flowing into the UK, a Britain that will prosper mightily, an Irish Sea without borders, a stronger Union and, of course, a Brexit windfall of 350m per week for the NHS.
[See also:How Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal is proving a nightmare for UK business]
Britain may have regained its precious sovereignty, but Financial Times points outa Bedford horticulturalist can no longer ship hyacinth bulbs to Ballymena without giving the EU proof of their destination, and a dog owner can no longer take their pet from Birmingham to Belfast without 200 vet checks.
Starmer broke through his silence allowed the government to hide the immense damage from its Brexit deal behind the even greater economic damage from the Covid-19 pandemic. He failed to challenge ministers’ claims that it is just starting problems or bumps in the road or like Dominic Raab suggested yesterday that we should have a ten-year view of the current issues facing business.
Rather, these are enduring structural issues enshrined in the deal Johnson negotiated and which the government gave our new sovereign parliament just a lonely day to review and approve (the European Parliament, on the other hand, is still reviewing the deal. ). And these problems will only worsen with the expiration of several grace periods and when travel for work and vacations resume.
The motives of Starmers are obvious. He wants to leave bitter Brexit divisions behind and win back Brexit-backed voters from the northern Red Wall and Midlands constituencies whose intense aversion to Jeremy Corbyn gave Johnson victory in the 2019 general election.
[See also:How Boris Johnson’s government took a “wrecking ball” to the music industry]
His goals are understandable, but his strategy is surely wrong. No one, not even the most ardent rest, is arguing that they should seek to reverse Brexit only to focus their attention on the far-reaching consequences of the deep and abrupt shift in the UK’s geopolitical course.
He should ask this reckless government to account for the huge gamble it has taken on Britain’s future and its insistence on the harshest of Brexits. He should demand that he establish a new national economic strategy to replace the one he just dumped, namely to make Britain a magnet for foreign investors seeking access to the single market. He should urge him to explain the role of the British in the world, now that he has ceased to be a bridge between the US and the EU; how he intends to repair our degraded relations with the vast political and commercial bloc across the Channel; and how it will ensure that Brexit does not undermine our efforts to fight international crime and terrorism.
Treating Brexit like an unbearable big one won’t win back voters from the Red Wall, while highlighting the many ways it harms their interests. But Starmers’ silence will certainly disappoint millions of centrist voters backing Remain who might otherwise be tempted to switch to Starmers. New Labor look from a right-wing conservative party or the seemingly dying Liberal Democrats.
Overall, I think Starmer did a good job under exceptionally difficult circumstances during his first year as Leader Labors. He put the party’s terrible electoral defeat behind it. He largely dismissed the Corbynistas. He has established himself as a substantial figure of impeccable honesty and integrity, unlike Johnson. In the midst of a national crisis, he has been sober and constructive in his criticism of governments’ handling of the pandemic, and he has wisely refrained from engaging in unsuccessful cultural wars.
But on the crucial issue of the Johnsons Brexit deal and its consequences, he went AWOL. He let the government get away with it. He has been complicit in her lies and cover-ups. He must do what is right, not opportune. He must do what the leaders do, which is to lead. He could start by using his opening speech on the economy on Thursday to point out that Johnson has only kept one of his Brexit promises. He promised to fuck business and he has.
[See also:Why the EU’s vaccine disaster doesn’t prove Brexit was right]
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