Labour leader Keir Starmer on Monday will break his silence over Brexit, vowing to “sort out the poor deal” struck with the EU by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, while ruling out a return to the bloc.
In a significant shift in rhetoric, Starmer will use a speech to the Centre for European Reform think tank to pledge to “deliver on the opportunities” of Brexit. At the same time, he’ll say a Labour government won’t take the UK back into the EU’s single market or customs union, or reintroduce freedom of movement, according to a Labour Party statement previewing the speech.
On Brexit Anniversary, UK Struggles for Answers on What’s Better
“You cannot move forward or grow the country or deliver change or win back the trust of those who have lost faith in politics if you’re constantly focused on the arguments of the past,” Starmer will say, hitting back at Labour figures such as London Mayor Sadiq Khan who believe the UK should rejoin the single market.
Britain’s EU exit has long been a thorny issue for the UK’s main opposition party, with many of its supporters backing Leave in the 2016 referendum. Starmer was personally blamed by some in the party for alienating its traditional voters in the 2019 general election by calling for a second referendum when he was Brexit spokesman.
Monday’s change of tack comes as Labour gears up for the next general election, expected by January 2025 at the latest. The party needs to win back swathes of their former heartlands in northern England to score an outright victory — seats that fell to Johnson’s Tories in 2019 after his “Get Brexit Done” election slogan.
‘Make Brexit Work’
Starmer will unveil a new mantra for Labour — “Make Brexit Work,” and criticize Johnson’s administration for not taking advantage of its new freedoms after completing the divorce.
“The government have missed Brexit opportunities time and time again,” he will say. “It beggars belief that during a cost of living crisis that they still haven’t cut VAT on energy bills.”
Johnson advocated scrapping the 5% sales tax on fuel bills when he was campaigning for Brexit, citing it as something the UK couldn’t do while remaining in the bloc. But even as rocketing fuel bills squeeze household budgets across the country, he’s pushed back against cutting the levy, calling it a “blunt instrument” that would reduce bills for people who don’t need the support.
Starmer said that the first step for Labour would be to fix the Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of the Brexit deal which keeps that region in the EU’s single market while creating a customs border with the rest of the UK.
Labour will be “the honest broker our countries need,” and will work with business to create a better program to allow low-risk goods to enter Northern Ireland without unnecessary checks, Starmer will say.