Starmer grilled on polling figures amid Tory failings
Sign up for FREE now and never miss the top politics stories again
We use your sign-up to provide content in ways you’ve consented to and to improve our understanding of you. This may include adverts from us and 3rd parties based on our understanding. You can unsubscribe at any time. More info
If it does not make you feel ill, cast your mind back to 2019 and picture a Remainer ex-Tory MP sunning on a beach in Greece iPhone clasped in hand rapidly typing and receiving messages on a Whatsapp group. From posh holiday resorts around the world MPs still in the Conservatives, defected from the Conservatives join Labour, Lib Dem and Scottish Nationalist remainers in discussing how to reverse the EU referendum. Who is coordinating the discussion? The then Labour shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer.
It was a time of turmoil in Parliament, the May Government had fallen and Boris Johnson had just been crowned her successor.
The then Speaker John Bercow, after a deal made over a curry in Kennington, had literally ripped up the rule book to ensure Britain could not Brexit.
With Jeremy Corbyn Labour was led probably by its worst leader in its history – a man more associated with antisemitism and hating Britain in the public eye.
But in the chaos in Parliament a new alliance was forming of like minded Lib Dems, Labour and renegade (mostly former) Tories.
The discussions taking place over Whatsapp were aimed at stopping Brexit happening. Those involved were panicking because the flabby compromise of the May Government had been swept away by Tory Brexiteers.
The famous hardcore Brexiteer Spartans who held out against her deal with the EU had won in the Conservative Party and now had a new Prime Minister who was going to “get Brexit done”.
One of the Spartans, Priti Patel, had even found herself holding one of the great offices of state as Home Secretary and there was no question about the direction of the new Government.
Sir Keir Starmer wanted a Remainer alliance Government in 2019 (Image: GETTY)
So the discussion was how to stop them and from these sun drenched messaging the Benn Act, named after Hilary Benn, would emerge to essentially outlaw a no deal Brexit.
Mr Johnson’s Brexit negotiator Lord Frost in a recent speech to Policy Exchange talked about how this hamstrung the Government and made the EU believe Brexit would not happen.
The Remainer alliance was close to victory and when the attempt to prorogue Parliament and call an election were stopped in the Supreme Court they had the Government and Brexit on the ropes.
All that was needed now was to supplant the elected Conservative Government with that alliance.
“It came within a whisker of happening,” one crestfallen insider told me.
All that stopped that earth shattering constitutional crisis was Mr Corbyn.
Boris Johnson won the 2019 election and got Brexit done (Image: GETTY)
The alliance wanted Hilary Benn as the new temporary Prime Minister where they could have enacted a so called “People’s Vote”, essentially a rigged second referendum designed to prevent another No vote.
“Jeremy Corbyn refused to stand down, he insisted that he would have to be Prime Minister or no deal,” said one ex Tory MP. “There was no way we would agree to that.”
In their own “trains and buses” Whatsapp group various Remainer Tory MPs and defectors discussed the options but were unable to agree on a strategy.
Then Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson “pulled the rug from under our feet”, one noted, and made a deal with the SNP to agree to an election.
The Conservatives seized on the opportunity, Nigel Farage then used the pages of the Sunday Express to indicate that he would be standing down Brexit Party candidates and Mr Johnson swept back to power with an 80 seat majority.
Brexit got done, but the Remainer now Rejoiner alliance has never gone away.
Starmer with the latest poll shows Labour’s lead over the Tories is shrinking (Image: GETTY)
As one former Tory MP put it to me, Keir Starmer was always warm to the idea.
“There was a deal to be done on a realignment which we could not do in 2019 because Corbyn was leader.”
Another Conservative defector texted me about the local elections deal between Labour and the Lib Dems.
“The broader picture is that one side of the political scene has reconfigured (and won the 2019 General Election) and the other side hasn’t yet.
“When it does the Tory Party in Government will be finished.”
The same former MP noted that there are problems for a new party to emerge.
“The internal politics and structures of Labour and the Lib Dems make such a reconfiguration more difficult though.”
But it is clear that there is now a common aim.
A veteran journalist in Westminster said to me last week quite correctly: “Brexit has not gone away. Covid and war has not erased it as the dividing line in British politics. It’s how people will define themselves for years to come.”
Priti Patel was a Brexit Spartan and showed the direction of Boris Johnson’s government (Image: GETTY)
So be in no doubt that if Labour and the Lib Dems really do get their act together and become an alliance or even a new party, rejoining the EU will be top of their agenda.
It will probably be by stealth,, renegotiating deals which tie Britain into the single market and customs union but eventually it will make Britain becoming a member inevitable.
Just because Brexit won in 2016 and then 2019 does not mean the war is won.
With ardent pro-EU leaders like Starmer and the Lib Dem Sir Ed Davey the intention will be to lock the UK under Brussels rule again as quickly as possible while their Rejoiner fans in the BBC, Sky and ITV cheer them on.