As Boris Johnson comes under fire from his own MPs over his potentially unlawful Brexit plans, Keir Starmer has made his first significant Brexit intervention. After keeping relatively quiet on the issue since winning the leadership, the Labour leader has laid out his party’s position on Brexit during an evening broadcast round.
Despite previously backing a second referendum, Starmer has told ITV that ‘we’ve left the EU, there’s no question of a second referendum… the Leave-Remain argument is over’. As for the best outcome in the talks, Starmer has said there needn’t be an extension to the trade talks – but that it was on Johnson and his team to deliver:
What we need to do is focus on what’s in the national interest, and what’s in the national interest is getting a deal, the Prime Minister promised that he would get a deal, he needs to deliver on that promise. I don’t think the issues that are outstanding can’t be resolved, so let’s get a deal, move on, and focus on what the public are concerned about, which is defeating this pandemic.
Starmer’s position is that his party supports a deal and believes it is on the government to secure one. Rather than suggest – as Johnson has – that leaving without a deal would be a good option should the talks collapse, he has suggested that no-deal would be the fault of Johnson and his team: ‘Get on, negotiate, get the deal that was promised. If this ends up without a deal that will be a failure on the part of the government.’
One of the reasons Starmer has been reluctant to dwell much on Brexit up until now is that it’s an issue that divides his party. In laying out his support for a deal today, Starmer has attempted to make the issue of a no-deal about Johnson’s weaknesses as a negotiator rather than the arrangement itself. The success of this strategy rests on public perception of how the negotiations play out. If voters take the view that it is the fault of Brussels that talks have stalled, Starmer will come under pressure to take a stance on an Australia-style arrangement.
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