Brexit is done and dusted, but when it comes to playing politics on the UK’s departure from the EU, the Labour party is still managing to get itself in a muddle. Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, is the latest Labour frontbencher to send confusing messages about Brexit to voters.
Starmer’s party, we are told, wants to come to an arrangement with the European Union on recognition of professional standards, something Boris Johnson’s deal lacks. Labour is also seeking a bespoke veterinary agreement with the EU to overcome problems inherent in the Northern Ireland Protocol as it stands. The party also wants to make it easier for British bands to tour on the continent. Yet all the time, Reeves is sticking to the line that Labour would not reopen the Brexit deal. It doesn’t take much to realise that this approach doesn’t add up.
The shadow chancellor had this to say about the Brexit deal:
‘We’ve left the EU and the government secured a trade deal at the eleventh hour full of holes. So far they have so far made no effort to build on it to make life easier for our British exporters and businesses. Labour would not reopen the deal, but we would fix those holes so we can buy, make and sell more in Britain, and so our fantastic British businesses can sell their goods and services across Europe and around the world.’
In other words, Labour is proposing to reopen the Brexit deal while saying explicitly they ‘would not reopen the deal’.
Haven’t Labour already had had their fill of getting Brexit wrong? It seems not. The thing voters have hated most about Labour’s position on Brexit since the referendum campaign kicked off is how incomprehensible it has always been; it changes all the time, but usually into something equally or more baffling than it was before. Take Corbyn’s ‘I give the EU a seven out of ten’ line. Or the second referendum period when Labour said they would hold another poll on EU membership ‘of sorts’, as Rebecca Long-Bailey put it.
The party has a track record over the last five years of seemingly figuring out the worst position they can take on the UK’s membership of the European Union and then running with it. This latest iteration is simply more of the same. If Labour got into power, we are now told, they would change the deal on many fronts, yet they wouldn’t reopen it so that it could be changed in the first place. The post-Brexit arrangements with the continent would be altered to the benefit of the UK but without having to alter them at all. How?
If Labour want to attack Boris’s Brexit deal, then great. There is lots there to have a go at, not least some of the issues that Reeves herself flags up. But in doing so, they need to be honest: if they want to change these things then it will require the Brexit deal to be reopened.
Now, that may or may not be a good thing, depending on your view on the referendum. But Labour must be honest enough with voters to make the case for why renegotiating with the EU is worth it. Instead, they have adopted an approach of trying to please all comers, saying one thing and clearly plotting to do another.
If Labour think that our new relationship with the EU, as negotiated by Boris Johnson, is insufficient, they need to say so in plain terms. Otherwise they should just let the subject rest. Labour want to be pro and anti-Brexit, just as they have tried to be again and again since 2016. No one’s buying it.