Friday 22 September 2023

It’s limited, but Labour’s post-Brexit policy does offer voters a choice

This has been quite an important week for post-Brexit politics, in that there has been the clearest indication yet of the approach of the anticipated future Labour government, and certainly the most extensive media coverage of it, perhaps because that prospect is becoming closer. At the same time, there’s been the clearest indication yet of how Labour’s policy will differ, to an extent, from the present Tory government and differ, considerably, from the probable position of a post-election-loss Tory Party.

Labour’s ‘new’ post-Brexit stance

It is the latest stage in what has already been a long, slow process, which I’ve discussed many times in the past on this blog, most recently in June of this year. This means that, in some respects, there is little that is new. Keir Starmer has been talking since July 2022 – although it seemed to have to be dragged out of him – about seeking to improve the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), including a security pact and a veterinary agreement. And in January of this year Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy made what I argued was a significant speech, which included plans for closer and more harmonious relations with the EU.

However, Labour are now making relations with the EU a more central part of their electoral offer, and doing so more loudly and slightly more confidently, perhaps emboldened by the clear polling evidence that so many voters regard Brexit as having been a failure. Indeed the pollster Professor Sir John Curtice argues that Labour aren’t so much being bolder as “playing catch-up” with public opinion.

This began to be signaled by Starmer’s visit to meet Europol officials in The Hague last week to discuss enhanced cross-border intelligence cooperation, during which he announced Labour’s plans to strike a deal with the EU over irregular migration. Then, last weekend, he and David Lammy used a conference in Montreal to re-iterate that in government Labour would seek to re-set relations with the EU as their “number one” foreign policy goal. This isn’t just about the TCA, and would include participation in structured, formal strategic dialogue, presumably along the lines already offered by the EU but rebuffed by Rishi Sunak (£).

During the Montreal visit, Starmer also gave a major interview to the Financial Times, which, tellingly, was widely reported by other media outlets, including the BBC main news bulletins, pledging “to seek a major rewrite of Britain’s Brexit deal” as part of the TCA review in 2026. Subsequently, footage emerged, though it was hardly surprising, of him emphasising that, under Labour, there would be no desire to diverge from EU environmental, food and employment standards. Then, also widely reported, including in the French media, was Starmer’s trip, along with Lammy and Rachel Reeves, to Paris, where he held what seems to have been a positive meeting with Emmanuel Macron.

In last week’s post I suggested that a Labour government might be able to fashion “a more coherent strategy, to the extent that it might pursue closer ties with the EU across all policy areas” and, even in the short period since then, it now seems clear that this is what they will offer. As such, again as I pointed out last week, it offers a contrast to the ad hoc and inconsistent Brexit ‘pragmatism’ of Rishi Sunak, constantly hamstrung by his own lack of vision as well as the leaden, lumpen, dead weight of his Brexit Ultra MPs, and the ever-present Conservative terror of a Farageist revival.

It’s worth adding that, for all that Starmer has repeatedly endorsed the hard Brexit red lines of not re-joining the EU or the single market, he has at least implicitly rejected the Tories’ doctrinaire opposition to (almost) any role for the ECJ. That in itself opens up some space for creating closer relationships with the EU, as it is often what precludes them (for example in relation to security and commercial database sharing). That is a contrast both with one of Theresa May’s original Lancaster House ‘red lines’ and with Boris Johnson’s adolescent ‘sovereignty first’ approach to the TCA negotiations.

Moreover, it is clear from his FT interview that Starmer has set his own red line against the ‘Brexit 2.0’ of derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which so many Brexit Ultras are agitating for and which, possibly, and I would think probably, will be adopted as Conservative policy after the next election. For that matter, given Sunak’s embrace this week of the anti-Net Zero agenda of the Tory right, it’s not inconceivable that, alongside promises of a fresh push to post-Brexit regulatory divergence, it will be their policy before the election. Some may regard Starmer’s stance as a small mercy, but I think it is rather more than that: Brexit itself is bad enough, but Brexit 2.0 on top of it would be even worse.

The Brexiters’ reactions

As this new, or newly communicated, approach from Labour began to emerge, the Brexiters’ knives were sharpened, if sharpness is a quality that can be applied to what, in both senses of the word, are such dull blades. Some of their reaction had a slightly surprising tinge. We’re well-used to them predicting the imminent collapse of the EU, but, in the Telegraph, both Associate Editor Camilla Tominey (£) and columnist Nigel Farage (£) were making the slightly different argument that, according to Tominey, only “poor deluded souls ‘remain’ under the illusion that the EU is some sort of friendly and progressive family of nations” whilst, according to Farage, “it is not the cuddly place Remainers think it is”. As evidence, both of them referred to the rise of the AfD in Germany, the illiberal regimes in Poland and Hungary, and the possibility of a Le Pen presidency in France. Why would “idiot remainers”, as Farage charmingly put it, want closer ties?

It was a strange line to take. There may be some remainers who are starry-eyed about the EU, but there are at least as many Brexiters who are constantly astonished that the EU is ‘mean’ and ‘unfriendly’ for reserving the rights and benefits of membership to its own members, something which most remainers see as self-evident. And even those with the mildest of liberal sensibilities hardly need instruction from Farage, of all people, about the dangers of neo-fascist and populist regimes. Beyond that, the very fact that individual members of the EU follow their own political paths gives the lie to the Brexiter claim that membership precludes national sovereignty.

But there is an even more fundamental issue, and it lies at the heart of the fallacy of Brexit. Brexiters used to say ‘we’re leaving the EU, not leaving Europe’, a slogan which, unusually, is simultaneously a truism, nonsense, and an important insight. The important insight is that, whether or not the UK is a member of the EU, the EU and its member states are there, right next door to us. Indeed, even if the EU didn’t exist at all, the nations of Europe would be there, right next door to us. Those irreducible geo-political facts mean that, whether in terms of trade, defence, irregular migration or anything else, the UK necessarily has a significant relationship with those countries.

So the issue is how, and how best, to relate to them. Brexiters have never even tried to give a reason why being absent from the institutions that link them is a better way of relating (as opposed to their claims about the supposed benefits domestically, or in terms of relating to non-EU countries and bodies). And they most certainly haven’t given any reason why, having decided to leave those institutions, a relationship of distance and antagonism is better than one of close cooperation.

Otherwise, most of the reactions from Tories, and Brexiters generally, to Labour’s approach have been fairly predictable. Early out of the trap, like an unusually well-conditioned Pavlovian dog hearing the distant ringing of a bell, David Frost dribbled (£) that “Britain is now in serious danger of losing Brexit” because “Labour wants to take us back closer to the EU”. It didn’t make much sense as a critique, though. Frost, like many Brexiters, gives as his central ‘philosophical’ argument that democratically elected UK governments should be free to pursue whatever policies they judge to be in the UK’s best interests. So if such a government decides being closer to the EU is in the national interest, then, even in Frost’s own terms, it doesn’t mean ‘losing’ Brexit but enacting it.

A few days later, Frost came up with the even more predictable line (£) of “Brexit betrayal”. If possible, this made even less sense than his previous effort, if only because, in insisting that the EU would not countenance an improvement to the TCA he negotiated, he not only negated his claim that it was already a wonderful deal – since he implicitly conceded that, were the EU minded to agree, a better deal is possible – he also negated the very claim that a ‘betrayal’ was in prospect.

In fact, this was a recurring contradiction in the Brexiters’ reaction, such as the Mail’s report on Starmer’s meeting with Macron. On the one hand, the prospects of the EU agreeing any re-negotiation were dismissed – strangely, the Brexiters have now abandoned all their claims about Britain ‘holding all the cards’ or ‘them needing us more than we need them’ – whilst, on the other hand, the non-outcome of this non-negotiation was presented as something to fear.

That aside, Frost’s second article was revealing in being laced with disparagement of the present Tory government for “paving the way” to Labour’s supposed betrayal, a good indicator of how the Tories will conduct their election defeat post-mortem. Frost will undoubtedly be a leading player in the autopsy, which seems almost certain to conclude that Sunak failed to be a ‘true’ Conservative and Brexiter. This will, again almost certainly, presage a lurch to the ‘National Conservative’ right. Liz Truss’s attempt this week to exhume the corpse of her disastrous ‘true Brexit’ premiership (£) can also be seen as the beginning of the same dismal process, as discussed by Josh Self, the increasingly excellent political commentator who succeeded Ian Dunt as Editor of

Political dad dancing

The meta-issue in all this, shown by the reaction of Frost and numerous other Brexiters, is the endless betrayalist narrative that permeates Brexit. But its very endlessness shows its absurdity. Just how many times can Brexit be betrayed? And if it has already been betrayed then what does it matter what Labour now do? Similarly, having warned us in October 2019, and in December 2020, and in November 2022 that we were getting ‘Brexit in Name Only’, it is hard to imagine why anyone would feel greatly stirred by Nigel Farage’s latest hand-wringing about how “two years into a Labour government it will [be] Brexit in Name Only”.

In fact, generally, although the Brexiters’ attack on Labour’s plans will undoubtedly continue to resonate with hardcore Leave voters, it’s hard to see it having wider cut-through. Things have moved on from the ‘will of the people’ days, especially given how many voters, including leave voters, have become disillusioned with Brexit, and the way that Sunak’s government has already, in a limited way, accepted the deficiencies of the Johnson Brexit. In this sense, if Labour are still 'playing catch-up' with public opinion, the Tories are simply ignoring it.

For that matter, not only has there been little regulatory divergence from the EU under the Tories – because for the most part it is totally impractical, either politically or economically – but, also, there is considerable public support for things staying that way, including amongst leave voters, in line with Labour’s policy. Similarly, whilst Starmer’s mention of not diverging on environmental, food and employment standards got the predictable ‘betrayal’ treatment on this morning’s Mail front page, a commitment to at least non-regression of environmental and labour standards is part of the TCA that Johnson agreed.

However, the only songs the Brexiters have are the old ones. For example, in his moonlighting role as a GB News presenter, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s squeaky diatribe against Labour focused primarily on the possibility of re-negotiating the Brexit deal leading to the UK “shadowing” the EU through “alignment”. But it seemed embarrassingly dated, the political equivalent of dad dancing, given the numerous ways that this is happening under the Tories, for reasons very well-understood by Rees-Mogg himself (£), as illustrated by his support for the idea of the UK unilaterally adopting EU regulations and conformity assessment marking, so as to avoid the ‘red tape’ of divergence or duplication.

Rees-Mogg also deployed an altogether more cynical, and probably more electorally potent, criticism in suggesting that the public had thought that all the arguments about Brexit were over. This was the standard response from the Conservatives, with a government spokesperson telling the BBC that Starmer "wants to take Britain back to square one on Brexit, reopening the arguments of the past all over again". It is a response that eschews any discussion about the merits of a closer relationship with the EU but instead plays upon the perhaps widespread desire amongst the electorate to simply not hear anything more about Brexit. Yet, apart from being cynical, it is also dishonest, since it is the Brexiters who constantly try to drag the debate back to the toxicity of 2016, not least with the accusation that any steps to a closer the relationship are 'betraying Brexit'.

By contrast, Labour’s policy is plainly an attempt to avoid ‘reopening the old arguments’ at all costs, hence Starmer’s insistence that there is no case to re-join the EU or the single market. That attempt attracts the hostility of Brexiters, who argue that his real agenda is rejoining, and that seeking a closer relationship is a route to this. But, ironically, it attracts as much hostility from re-joiners, who argue that his real agenda ought to be rejoining, and that seeking a closer relationship doesn’t offer any route to this.

Towards ‘de-Brexitification’?

My reading is slightly different. I think what Labour are doing, sensibly, is to try to ‘de-Brexitify’ the entire question of UK-EU relations, and to approach them as a policy issue that may be very different in detail, but no different in kind, from the way the UK conducts its relations with other friendly powers. Contrary to the Brexiters’ criticisms, that doesn’t entail reversing Brexit, but contrary to the re-joiners’ criticisms it does not preclude doing so, and is a necessary step to doing so.

If successful, normalizing relations, and not framing them constantly in terms of the now dead question of whether to leave the EU, would be a good thing in itself, undoing some of the damage of Brexit, as well as providing at least one of the preconditions for a viable case for joining the EU to be made (another being an active campaign movement for doing so). To put that another way, whilst Brexiters are wrong to think that Starmer’s insistence that ‘there is no case to re-join’ conceals a current intention to do just that, it really shouldn’t be difficult for re-joiners to envisage that, at some time down the line, he will say that circumstances have changed and that there is now such a case.

It may well be that Labour, at least in public statements, are pinning far too much on the TCA review, which is designed as a technical stock-taking exercise rather than a vehicle for re-negotiation. This week, the UK in a Changing Europe (UKICE) research centre produced an excellent report on this, explaining that, as things stand, the EU is likely to approach the review from just such a ‘minimalist’ perspective, and that if a Labour government wants to make the scope more ‘maximalist’, then the onus will be on it to persuade the EU that this is worthwhile, which won’t be easy. Moreover, even if that persuasion is successful in setting a maximalist agenda, then pursuing it to a successful conclusion will take a long time to negotiate. Peter Foster and Andy Bounds of the Financial Times provided a similarly cautious analysis (£).

However, an interesting Twitter (or X, or perhaps ex-Twitter) thread by Mujtaba Rahman, the well-connected and insightful Europe MD of the Eurasia Group, offered a perhaps more subtle, and rather more optimistic, perspective. Amongst other things, he argues that the importance of changing the tone of the UK-EU relationship shouldn’t be underestimated. That’s not, as is sometimes dismissively suggested, for the naïve reason of thinking that a more ‘friendly’ atmosphere will make much concrete difference, but because Labour look set to bring what Rahman characterizes as a “more consistent, more serious and more forward-leaning engagement” than the UK government has shown since 2016. That, along with greater realism than the Tories have shown, could create new incentives for the EU to engage with the UK.

Domestically, Rahman suggests that Labour ruling out all forms of re-joining gives them “political cover” to make non-trivial improvements. It’s true, as the UKICE report points out, that even the maximalist version of the TCA review would not greatly shift the economic dial, but the report also provides a list of the substantive improvements that could result. Of course, they aren’t going to ‘make Brexit work’, but it simply isn’t true, despite what most re-joiner critics of Labour insist, that Starmer’s red lines preclude any progress of any value at all. Indeed, that’s demonstrated by the UKICE point that the maximalist version of the TCA review would require protracted negotiation. That would hardly be so if the possible changes were as trivial as those critics claim.

Rahman also points out that the positions of both Labour and the EU are in flux, with many possible outcomes. One indication of this was the publication this week of a Franco-German plan, reported by The Times (£) as being  “designed with Labour in mind”, although better understood as part of a far broader EU discussion about enlargement, for new forms of tiered ‘associate membership’ of the EU, within which the UK might find a place. It’s not an altogether new idea, although the context is, and a shadow minister was quick to disown any interest in it, which is unsurprising as it goes much further than Labour are willing to go this side of the election. But it does point to the way that, as Ian Dunt of the i put it, “a new kind of European future” could emerge for Britain.

The domestic choice

Whether or not that is so, the domestic politics of Brexit are becoming clearer, at least in terms of what the alternative to the Tories’ approach consists of. It is a Labour, or perhaps Labour-led, government which won’t offer (and, arguably, couldn’t deliver, at least in its first term) a reversal of hard Brexit, but will develop as close and as harmonious a relationship as the EU will agree to short of that. That isn’t just about the TCA review, but the entirety of the ongoing relationship.

That opens some clear water between the parties, though it is of slender breadth. As Rafael Behr eloquently put it in the Guardian, “the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are both shopping for European policy in the narrow aisle between economic grasp of the problem and political fear of the remedy”. The difference, though, is slightly greater than it seems, and greater than Behr perhaps allows, not so much in itself as in the direction and speed of travel it points to. Just as it is now widely understood, even by most Brexiters, that Brexit is a process, not an event, the same holds for ‘de-Brexitificaton’ and even ‘de-Brexiting’, if they are to happen.

The problem, of course, as Behr concludes, is that “time is already running out”. More accurately, the problem is the tension between two different timescales. The more time that passes since the 2016 referendum, the more the toxicity of Brexit recedes, the more its sensitivity as a political issue reduces, the more the generation of politicians which was obsessed with getting it passes, and the more the electoral demographic that most supported it is replaced by that which was most opposed to it. On the other hand, the more time that goes by without being a member of at least the single market, the more the economic damage racks up as, without also being a member of the EU, does the geo-political damage.

Within that framing, the first timescale isn’t much affected by who is in power, but would be slightly accelerated by a Labour government if only because that would marginalize Tory Brexiter politicians. The second timescale could be slightly shortened by a Labour government, and the interim damage slightly reduced, or possibly considerably reduced compared with what a Tory government might decide to do if elected.

It may not seem like much of a choice, but it is a choice, and this week made it clearer than ever that it will be the one facing us at the next election. The outcome will make some difference to post-Brexit policy in the following years, but could make a huge difference to the choices available in the election after that.


Note: I have re-enabled comments on this blog, for an experimental period, under a strict comments policy.


  1. The UKICE report makes the point that seeking closer relations with the EU through a review of the TCA will require a lot of administrative and negotiating effort for very little gain: the only way of significantly reducing the negative effects of Brexit is to re-join the single market and customs' union. Rafael Behr makes the point that this has been ruled out by Starmer because it would mean accepting Freedom of Movement. The key issue here is therefore Freedom of Movement: is it (or was it) really a bad thing or was it politically a bad thing? If it became perceived as a bad thing, how did that happen?

    In my view this is a key issue and I am a bit surprised that you haven't focused on this issue in your blog. As you say:- "the more time that goes by without being a member of at least the single market, the more the economic damage racks up". The big factor in propelling the UK out of the EU was a moral panic about FoM and it is a big factor keeping the UK out of the Single Market. This was based on a complete misunderstanding of the issues.

    So I would be be interested in your in-depth analysis of FoM. Should we just accept that FoM became a difficult political issue or could that have been avoided? Is there a way to stop FoM being a difficult political issue, so that we can consider re-joining the Single Market?

    1. It's a good point. If I didn't mention it in the post my only defence (if needed) is my constant battle to keep the word count down! As regards this post, I don't have much to add to what you say - it's clear Labour currently will go nowhere near FoM, and that's a big (though not the only) reason they won't go near SM. More generally Labour (& still less the Tories) are miles from having any kind of sensible discussion about immigration, and it is vitally needed.

    2. Rachel Reeves has been making speeches in the north of England saying that it is good that FoM has ended. The problem is not that politicians won't go near FoM: they are making anti-FoM statements that are untrue. This is not a new problem: Andy Burnham criticised FoM in his bid to be leader of the Labour Party in 2015 and Rachel Reeves said that FoM had to end just after the referendum. The failure to defend FoM is a big part of why Brexit happened. Thus my question - could we have avoided a situation where nominally pro-EU politicians did not defend FoM?

    3. a) by 'won't go near' I meant 'won't go near restoring it' b) and, yes, it goes back a long way - Lab have been on the defensive about this since at least the 2010 'Mrs Duffy moment' c) on your question - of course, if they had acted differently - but as to why they didn't, that would take a lot of excavation and analysis which is beyond my competence.

    4. Freedom of Movement is what civilized Europeans do. Until the UK accepts this it cannot be allowed anywhere near the EU (and cannot be civilized).

    5. I agree with you on Labour and FoM. We really did try our best to get Labour to see benefits of FoM and the issues for EU citizens here and Brits within the EU but they didn't want to know and still don't. The lack of single market and the adding of customs has destroyed my company and finances.

      FoM is the trump card that the UK can play for better relations because we want to live and work together. Even now I have a friend from Romania who is desperate to gain the ability to apply for settled status even though she knows the UK is screwed socially and financially and wishes to live and work in Ireland. She has six months to go and will then apply for settled status before leaving for Ireland via Romania.

  2. Sweet,

    Since Twitter became X, and I became an ex-twit(?), it is nice to have a venue to, at the very least, show some appreciation for your work.

    So, thank you Professor Grey.

    As to the UK's slow grind towards sanity, reality, and some semblance of passable statecraft by the main opposition party -- in the eyes of an EU citizen -- merits about three mild shouts of "yay"!

    Of course, between the passive, (and relentless) on-going divergence of EU-UK regulatory settings, and the incoming new, big (regulatory) changes of EU's border operations (CBAM, EES biometrics), the work load to "fix Brexit" for the UK is getting ever longer.

    Add to it the UK's own still missing border checks, and the fact that it hasn't (been able to) fully implemented the WA/TCA requirements -- and one can see the incoming Labor government needing to run at full speed to, at best, just stay more or less in the same place.

    Furthermore, it seems that Labor has its own demons to excise on cherry-picking, and having/eating cake.

    Just as we (the EU) did not trade fish for financial services during the TCA talks, we will not trade, say, EV RoOs for security and defense deal, nor will we agree to any "mutual equivalence" on SPS matters, but expect the UK to operate by our rules under our jurisdiction.

    I still do not see any of these issues being spoken in the UK with a degree of honesty that will move the dial enough for it to be taken seriously in Brussels.

    That being said, Labor is much preferred to the present libertarian ragtag/cabal running the place, as they are just utterly hopeless/compromised to be of any use to anyone, bar their billionaire owners, hedge fund managers, Russians, and Tory donors.

  3. Please, remainers and leavers alike, stop bashing each other and start to listen. While all what you criticise about leavers is true, it is also true that EU membership undermined UK sovereignty and democracy - and leavers never understood why people in other EU member countries didn't feel it undermined theirs and didn't follow the UK out. The unique reason is best explained in a little known 2007 brochure by some Theresa May "Restoring Parliamentary Authority - EU Laws and British Scrutiny". The crucial sentence is on page 9: "Parliament therefore has no power over the positions ministers take in Brussels on European proposals because even if the whole House of Commons objected, the government could still support it in the House of Ministers." European matters are foreign affairs, and the UK government via Henry VIII powers could use Brussels to circumvent UK lawmaking. Other EU member countries in some way or other have adapted their own governance structures so this does not happen. Also compare CETA and Walloonia with new UK trade deals where Scottish or Welsh concerns are completely irrelevant.

    1. Your last two sentences show the flaw of your argument. EU members can avoid such problems and your example of CETA and the Walloonia vote is a good one: member state and even regional parliaments can vote on EU trade deals, whereas, when a member, the UK *chose* to waive that right. Not only could that have been corrected without Brexit but, as you also allude to, now that we have Brexit, the UK does its trade deals without regard to Scotland and Wales and, actually, with almost no Westminster Parliamentary input either (because of Henry VIII powers you mention, use of which has in fact grown since Brexit, and not just in relation to trade policy).

    2. I wish the UK hadn't used Brexit to "restore parliamentary authority" but rather constrained their own government's powers within the EU so other UK democratic bodies (regional parliaments, HoC committees and such like) would have institutionalized channels to influence whatever the government did in Brussels. Brexit hasn't really solved much because now UK democracy and sovereignty are still undermined via foreign treaties, and it is no help that now there are investor-state dispute settlements instead of ECJ judgements. The way is to somehow or other clip the government's wings and give more power to the HoC and regional parliaments, also in foreign affairs. I think this is necessary before any discussion of rejoining. If a substantial part of the UK people cannot identify with EU membership because there are not enough channels of democratic influence towards whatever laws and decisions and treaties are made in Brussels and Strassbourg, this is no foundation for membership.

    3. So has Brexit improved our sovereignty and democracy. Ithink not!

    4. @Hubsy In a certain way it has. The UK has lost power in not having a seat at the EU tables while still being affected by whatever is decided there. But in any western democracy, there is a balance between the three institutions, legislative, judicative, and government. The government is already exceptionally strong in the UK, and EU membership had tilted the balance even more towards government power, thus undermining this contitutional balance. The UK influence on EU laws went totally by way of the UK government, and thus took from the HoC what would have belonged there. The Theresa May publication can be found in the internet, it addresses this problem and explains how other EU members deal with this problem, and that the UK uniquely does not.

  4. Thanks for this. All I would add is that whilst I agree with you about those things not being discussed with enough honesty in the UK, at least in terms of public debate, I hope (and to some extent believe) that there is more honesty behind the scenes in internal discussions in the Labour Party, if only from what I know of some of the people advising them. If not then, and, to take one of your examples, they think they can get an SPS 'equivalence' agreement, rather than dynamic alignment, then they are in for a nasty surprise. But, even if I'm right in my hope, it is still a big problem for UK politics if honesty in these matters is only possible behind closed doors.

    1. Oh yes,

      I have no doubt that Labor's internal conversations are more realistic than their public utterances, but as you say, the problem is its absence from the public discourse.

      Although, from a political strategy point-of-view, I think Labor is right not to trumpet "EU anything" too loudly, as any serious changes to the present base-line of our relations are not simply on offer for the UK.

      With my line of reasoning we would be well into a second Labor term in office before the EU might be willing to consider a whole-sale revamp of the TCA -- and even then the "other enlargement issues", read: Ukraine et al., might prempt the EU's willingness to take on the hard grind of hammering out a new deal with the UK before the aforementioned matters are settled.

      My hope is that the UK uses these years in the wilderness to modernize its political/electoral system, maybe fix your news/media laws, while at it.

      Coalition governments teaches the value of political compromise, and prevents a minority run semi-dictatorship that seems to be the present way in the UK to run the country.

      Anyway advice from foreigners probably won't fly well right now, so I digress.

  5. You are right to urge internationalists not to dismiss Labour even if it seems ultra-cautious. If Sunak and Starmer appear at the moment to be quite close, the pressure on them is to move in opposite directions.

    Starmer appears to think he can get some kind of special deal for Britain, which I find uncomfortably similar to Theresa May. It is a sort of fading echo of the nationalism which we do not seem able to rid ourselves of.

    The way forward is adroit diplomacy both at home and abroad in which we offer the EU at least as much as we ask but not so much as to rebuild the Brexit coalition at home.

  6. I can't understand why Starmer is so nervous, as I read this morning that 88% of Labour voters want to rejoin. Of course this needs to be fact-checked, but if true, he must know what to do if and when he gets into government. What surprises me is that the Tory Brexit ultras are so disparaging, ie as you put it playing catch up with the electorate.

    1. "I can't understand why Starmer is so nervous, as I read this morning that 88% of Labour voters want to rejoin." The problem in 2019 was that 100% of the then Labour voters were only enough to give Mr. Johnson's "Get Brexit Done" Tories a humongous majority.

  7. re : Brexiteers reactions :
    Regarding Tominey's assertion that the EU isn't apparently a "friendly and progressive family of nations", it would seem that the CPTPP now aligns us with a country (Mexico) where the cartel is the fifth largest national employer.

  8. Can I just take the opportunity with your re enabled comment facility to just say thanks for your consistently erudite and interesting analysis. I hope you are able to keep your own sanity intact with the sheer boneheadedness of it all.

  9. Hi Chris, you are the best of every Friday morning. From an european living in London, thank you for articulating remainer thoughts and being the voice of reason in Brexit Britain

  10. Thank you so much! I've been reading your blog for years, and it helps me to stay sane.

  11. Starmer should stop looking like a rabbit in headlights and start leading the public opinion rather than just playing catch up with it. The country is desperately waiting for it.

    1. I tend rather to doubt that enough of the country "is desperately waiting" for Starmer to lead - eg. in the direction of rejoin- If there were enough votes there, he would almost certainly go for it.

  12. Like others I am frustrated that Labour doesn’t state clearly an alternative vision to the Conservatives – at the moment they seem just to offer a less nasty version of government with negligible policy differences. I hope those discussions really are happening behind the scenes, and we will eventually see clear plans to make the country a fairer society with recent shortcomings in health and education provision (etc) getting corrected.

    However on Brexit at least it is a sensible strategy, as stated above there has never been proper intelligent discussion about the matter since everything gets reduced to a slanging match based on exchanging insults. And rejoining wouldn’t be in Labour’s power, starting from where we are now the EU would want strong assurances that the UK would be a committed partner which means they would want to see a consensus across the political parties. Realistically a better working relationship with good alignment in all the areas where the Conservatives have introduced friction is as much as would be achievable in one parliament.

    I discovered your blog about three years ago, and have several times been frustrated you didn’t offer the possibility of complimenting you on some of the important insights you have given me. So now I have the opportunity I want to say thank you for your diligent work and writing.

    Jonathan B

  13. Anonymous has a lot to say for themselves! Hard to fully determine which one is the initiator of commentary and whether respondents are the same person. Pah! Life in the blogosphere

    1. You've discovered the mystery of being anonymous.

  14. Missing in both the responses of the Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties is any substantial account of the damage wrought by Brexit on the UK economy and its role in geopolitical issues.

    This should not be so difficult whilst you (prof. Chris Grey) and a few others provide well researched documentation, yet if there is a need to 'shift the dial' in public perceptions, the exposure of Brexit's failings are essential. It is hard to fathom the pusillanimity of the Labour, and even more of the Liberal Democrat leaderships. Whilst there may be a balance of risks in advocating steps to reversal of Brexit, this does not really apply to making explicit the deleterious consequences of Brexit.

  15. Excellent balanced commentary BUT... I was almost convinced that KS and co had some clear ideas . Then I listened to Keir's Politico podcast chat with Anne McElvoy (Power Play) where he argied that as Britain is in NATO strengthening UK security via the EU was not really important. This undermines Lammy's message and seems to fail to understand much about the EU anyway.

  16. Thank you again for your excellent analysis. It seems to me that there is a huge lack of political courage in both parties. There are (or were) wonderful opportunities in our membership of the EEC/EU. I remember the feeling, I was 27 in 1975; we were going on a new path, a realistic path, we were leaving the Imperial/Empire nonsense behind, we were going to become a major player in Europe. Just as Harold MacMillan (probably Britain's best post war PM) had envisaged in 1959.
    Now? A review of comments regarding BREXIT, on just about any forum, will reveal hateful xenophobia, bigotry, an astounding level of ignorance, almost nihilism. What happened?

  17. Just back from the National Rejoin March II, which was the usual walk in the sun for about 10,000 friendly rejoiners. I was listening to one of the GB News reporters doing a piece-to-camera and, other than a strawman that attendance was much lower than "predicted" (by whom?), he did have a good point that he was expecting a much more detailed outline of how Rejoin might work, and even when Rejoin might happen. The Good Prof has outlined the many, endless and varied faults of Brexit, most of which now seem to be accepted by Joe Public as givens. But what comes next? There's still a groundswell of pro-EU groups but, as ever, they lack clear leadership, clear strategy and, certainly at present, any clear hook to get Rejoin back inside the Overton window. Nothing will happen until the Tories are "put out of their misery" (real soon now), but suggestions for the way forward gratefully accepted. I'd put a punt on "Macron's Onion" as mooted above, but it won't happen without some hard work in the UK.

    1. Professor Grey has a Youtube video out where he discusses with Brendan Donnelly of the Federal Trust (search Federal Trust on YT) where he discusses the rejoin process. Well worth the 15 minutes or so.
      Street demonstrations are fine, and probably necessary, but some leader has to get up and grasp the nettle. Tell in detail why Britain joined the EEC in the first place (without spouting the FTA nonsense), Why Britain should be in it now, why rejoin, and speak for the political integration that is a fundamental aim of the EU. As it was when we joined in the first place.

    2. To complement Roger's contribution, I would add that Rejoin needs to press for a new referendum in favour of a closer, more cooperative relationship with the EU, one that would overwrite the 2016 vote. It could not be to join the EU nor even the Single Market since these are not for the UK to determine, but it could provide a mandate and very much pave the way.

    3. Getting out of Brexit is going to be a lot harder than getting into it. We have to accept that fact.

      The marchers have done a good job but there is no substitute for having a government that is not rooted in nationalism and wants to improve relations with the EU. Even so it is going to be a long and sometimes tortuous process. Even if Britain adopted a clear and fixed rejoining policy we do not know how the EU would react.

      I think I was right in my previous post that we need to be able to offer leading EU governments some incentive to work with us on practical problems but not so much as to re-awaken the 2016 coalition. That, like many other things, will depend on the ability of a Starmer government to stick to long-term aims while having the tactical flexibility to avoid traps.

  18. Thank you so much for your excellent analysis and hard work on explaining these issues over the last few years - you’ve enriched my understanding immeasurably. It would be interesting sometime to hear your thoughts on what an “active campaign movement” to rejoin should look like to be effective.

    1. Thanks, much appreciated. Depending on what else goes on this week, I might have a go at your suggestion

    2. I would be very interested to read that, as well.

  19. You mention that people are beginning to realise "that Brexit is a process, not an event". That is also true, and always has been, and always will be, of the EU itself as many of the examples cited in your article show. It is also true of any relationship that the UK might be able to negotiate with the EU and it always will be. Brexit will never "be done" just as being a member of the EU was never "done" (until the vote! haha). UK has swapped one process for another which can never provide the same advantages as before.

    Psychologically, a continuing process is a much more uncomfortable thing to sell to a population seeking for quick fixes to immediate problems.

    It is clear that the Conservatives gave up on any process.

    It will be interesting to see if Labour can manage it.

  20. Brexit happened because a significant number of voters were persuaded that EU rules (and especially Single Market rules) were imposed on the UK, so Brexit was a form of independence from unaccountable rulers. The EU's view is that the UK actually helped to create the rules, that Thatcher was one of the architects of the SM, that the UK had a privileged seat at the table managing and updating the rules of the SM and other EU institutions, so the UK should have known that it wasn't going to be able to leave the SM and still trade with the rest of Europe in the same way; it wasn't going to be possible to stay in the EU but opt-out of Freedom of Movement (which was the position of some Labour MPs and even the Guardian at one stage).

    The UKICE report makes the point that seeking closer relations with the EU through a review of the TCA will require a lot of administrative and negotiating effort for very little gain. The risk of Labour's strategy is that it might prove to be a dead-end; much less might be achieved than is promised. The EU might get irritated that the UK hasn't yet shaken off the belief that EU rules were an imposition. Voters might get irritated that not much has been achieved.

    Somebody is going to have to start busting the myths to a wider public. I don't think that politicians are going to do that nor most of the media. You need to think about how to get some of Prof. Grey's analysis to a wider audience.

  21. I'd like to take the opportunity to thank you, both for your excellent book as well as for this blog. As CEO of a pan-European non-profit organisation with a large office in the UK it has helped me to make more sense of what is happening. This has been useful in making decisions with regards to the future of the UK office.

  22. Thank you for your incredible efforts to capture the ongoing drama that is Brexit, Chris. Your analyses are second to none.

    I've had your blog pinned in my browser (next to Simon Wren-Lewis') since around 2017 and always look forward to your posts!

  23. Thanks, Chris, for this most informative blog. I have read it almost from the start. Your book ain't too bad, either.

  24. Like many I have followed Chris Grey from 2017 and echo the comments that his analysis and considerable work involved in research based outcomes have been really appreciated. This is much in contrast to the howling propaganda of the main stream media. I have found the Brexit project very deeply disturbing and tried to warn people about the agenda of the Atlas Network and Tufton Street and it's connection and influences and the links to Republicans, climate changer deniers and human rights etc. Brexit was a means to inflict this toxic ideology on us without woke interference from the lefty socialist EU. Brexit is far more complex than many realise. No one should underestimate the power and influence of the Brexit agenda. The hard Brexiteers are right when they say it hasn't been done right within the meaning of the dogma.