June 2024: the 2024 election manifestos

In this supplement to the normal Friday posts, I take a look at the manifestos of the larger parties in terms of what they say specifically about Brexit and about post-Brexit relations with the EU, or which could indirectly be seen as bearing on those things. I’ll also try to give sense of the prominence, weight or tone of what is said, and, in some cases, comment on what it not said. They are long documents, so apologies if I have missed anything. Also, please note that I haven’t attempted to check whether they contain policy pledges which, if implemented, would be incompatible with EU membership.

Below are reviews of the manifestos of the following parties, in the order they were published: Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Plaid Cymru, Reform UK, SNP, Alliance, and DUP.

As a prelude, it is worth recalling the obvious. Brexit was proposed, voted for, and enacted on the basis that it was to be a major re-set of national strategy, and, according to its advocates, a re-set for the better. It split families, communities, generations, regions, and the constituent nations of the United Kingdom. It gave rise to some of the most bitter and dramatic political and parliamentary events in living memory.

The last election was fought and won primarily on the platform of ‘getting Brexit done’. But Brexit was, and could never have been, a one-off event. It is a permanent, if still evolving, condition. Now, another election is being held, at a time when opinion polls show that just 15% of the electorate think that the benefits of having left the EU outweigh the negatives.

What, then, are the political parties saying about Brexit?

The Conservative Party

Even before the election was announced, I wrote that the “Tory leadership now has nowhere to stand: it can neither boast of Brexit nor disown it. It has to insist both that Brexit was the right thing to do, which only a minority of voters now believe, and that it was done in the right way, something which only a minority of that minority now believe, which isn’t electorally viable. Hence the near-silence.”

Subsequently, once the campaign started, I suggested that this meant they would be relatively muted, but that to the extent they referred to Brexit it would be to seek to highlight trade deals and ‘cutting EU red tape’. This is exactly what has happened and it is reflected in the Conservative manifesto. Despite being 76 pages long, Brexit is rarely mentioned, and not in prominent ways.

Rishi Sunak’s Foreword does no more than include having “got Brexit done” at the end of a list of supposed achievements of the last government. Then, it features as one of 24 bullet points on the summary page of promised “bold actions” which the party would undertake if elected:

“Seize the benefits of Brexit by signing further trade deals, speeding up infrastructure and unblocking 100,000 homes, cutting red tape for business, and creating new fishing opportunities.”

This general statement is then fleshed out, first in a bullet point on p.9, promising to:

“Introduce reforms to outdated EU red tape to better protect nature while enabling the building of new homes, new prisons and new energy schemes. Along with the reforms to the EU’s bureaucratic environmental impact assessment regime that we have already started, these changes will speed up local and national infrastructure planning systems.”

There is then a longer sub-section on pp.10-11, entitled “Building new trade links to help British businesses thrive”. It contains the now standard array of pointless statistics (e.g. enumerating post-EU trade deals which are almost entirely rollovers, rather than a Brexit benefit), dubious statistics (e.g. using non-inflation adjusted figures), meaningless statistics (e.g. combined GDP of the CPTPP countries), underwhelming statistics (e.g. a long-term GDP boost of £2 billion a year from CPTPP), meaningless statistics (e.g. number of near-valueless, non-binding “deals” with individual US states) and, of course, the empty boast that of having “the most comprehensive FTA the EU has ever agreed”.

This is all stuff which has been debunked on this blog and elsewhere numerous times and, needless to say, never even attempts to compare these benefits, such as they are, with the costs of Brexit. It also casually glosses over what used to be the Brexiters key trade dream of an FTA with the US, which is now just something “we will look to agree … with the US when they are ready to do so”. Yeah, right.

One point of interest in this section is the promise that:

“We will build on [the FTA with the EU], but will not agree to anything in the forthcoming review of the TCA that would infringe our legal sovereignty or involve submission to the CJEU or dynamic alignment. We will take a tough approach on ensuring that the EU are meeting their commitments under the TCA and not discriminating against our exporters.”

There’s no indication of what ‘building on’ it could mean within these parameters, or what the ‘tough approach’ refers to. But what seems to be implied is that the Tories see the current relationship with the EU as being as good as they want it to be, and also to open up some sort of gap with Labour’s policy.

On p.11 there is as sub-section entitled: “Using our Brexit freedoms to deliver regulatory reform”. This is mainly general woffle, but includes a boast about having ‘repealed or reformed’ thousands of EU laws, with more to come, which is highly disingenuous in ignoring that almost nothing of any substance has been repealed. Rather underwhelmingly, it chooses to highlight the ‘Brexit Pubs Guarantee’, whereby duty on beer and cider sold in pubs is less than on supermarkets. It’s unclear whether this actually required Brexit, and it was dismissed as “complete nonsense” by publicans when it was first introduced. Moreover, it’s part of a set of alcohol duty changes which, far from cutting red tape, introduced a far more complex structure of duties. More puzzlingly, this section includes a commitment not “introduce Labour’s package of French-style union rules”, which is nothing to do with Brexit one way or the other.

Beyond this, there are some passing mentions of Brexit-related matters, as follows:

On p.52 there is a promise to scrap EU nutrient neutrality regulations so as to facilitate house building, a measure that has been announced before, then dropped, and is highly controversial with environmental groups, including the RSPB.

On p.56 there is a commitment to create more Freeports, though Brexit is not mentioned (it is in any case not clear to what extent, in practice, post-Brexit Freeports differ from those permitted within the EU).

On p.62 there are commitments on funding for farmers, and protecting them in trade deals, but there is no explicit mention of Brexit or the difficulties it has caused agriculture and agricultural trade.

On p.57 there is mention of Brexit in relation to fishing rights, but no acknowledgment of how Brexit has damaged the fishing industry or any real detail on what the future holds.

On p.72 there is a commitment to “relentlessly protect the UK’s internal market, securing Northern Ireland’s place within it” and on p.76 a commitment to “faithfully implement” the Windsor Framework. There’s no recognition that further regulatory divergence from the EU further fragments the UK internal market.

Overall comments on the Conservative manifesto

The most obvious observation is that the Conservatives, having caused Brexit to happen by holding the referendum, having chosen the form in which it was delivered, and having had years to make use of it, now have very little to say about it. What they do say shows that almost no positive effects can be claimed for it, and those which can be claimed are highly questionable.

In the process, the party has alienated ‘remainers’, including significant parts of its electoral basis, including much of its traditional business support. At the same time, it has failed to satisfy supporters of Brexit, including especially the ‘de-regulatory’ and anti-immigration sections of its electoral base, sections which themselves don’t share a view of what Brexit should have been. In this way, the Tories have not seen off, but invigorated, the Farageist threat to them. The party is formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, but Brexit has profoundly damaged its unionism, especially as regards Northern Ireland. Their 2024 manifesto therefore appeals to only a very small constituency of electors.

At the same time, the manifesto shows the error, or at least the over-simplification, of those opponents of Brexit who are adamant, sometimes aggressively so, that it was entirely explained by a ‘neo-liberal deregulatory’ agenda. For, whilst some Tory Brexiters most certainly had that agenda, Brexit never, in and of itself, provided the means to deliver it: the utter feebleness of the manifesto, from their perspective, is testament to this.

The Labour Party

The reasons for Labour’s extreme caution about Brexit have been widely discussed, including many times on this blog (and long-term readers will know that, for what it’s worth, I have become quite sympathetic to, or at least understanding of, this position). The manifesto contains no surprises in that respect, but is nonetheless striking for how very little it contains, how thin on detail it is on such commitments as it does make, and the complete lack of any tone of enthusiasm about them.

The lack of detail is all the more striking given that the manifesto as a whole weighs in at a whopping 136 pages, or about 30,000 words of which, by my reckoning, about 300 are directly to do with Brexit.

On p.17, in the chapter on ‘Secure Borders’, there is a commitment to “seek a new security agreement with the EU to ensure access to real-time intelligence and enable our policing teams to lead joint investigations with their European counterparts.”

Other than that, such references as there are fall within the final substantive chapter, entitled “Britain Reconnected”.

On p.116 there is perhaps an oblique reference to Brexit in the sentences: “chaotic Conservative foreign policy has weakened our alliances, squandered our climate leadership – a huge diplomatic opportunity – and undermined our reputation as upholders of international law. At home, Conservative attacks on our globally respected institutions – universities, courts and the BBC – have undermined our soft power, traditionally a source of great strength, and diminished our influence.”

The reference to upholding international law might imply Labour distancing itself from the Tory threats on relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol, and the linkage to various soft power issues to be a nod towards recognizing the damage Brexit has done, and to distancing itself from Brexitist culture war politics.

On p.117 there is a general statement that “we will be confident in our status outside of the EU, but a leading nation in Europe once again, with an improved and ambitious relationship with our European partners.”

This is a prelude to the main set of post-Brexit commitments, both negative and positive, which run on into p.118.

First, the negative commitments:

“With Labour, Britain will stay outside of the EU. But to seize the opportunities ahead, we must make Brexit work. We will reset the relationship and seek to deepen ties with our European friends, neighbours and allies. That does not mean reopening the divisions of the past. There will be no return to the single market, the customs union, or freedom of movement.”

Then, the positive commitments:

“Instead, Labour will work to improve the UK’s trade and investment relationship with the EU, by tearing down unnecessary barriers to trade. We will seek to negotiate a veterinary agreement to prevent unnecessary border checks and help tackle the cost of food; help our touring artists; and secure a mutual recognition agreement for professional qualifications to help open up markets for UK service exporters. Labour will seek an ambitious new UK-EU security pact to strengthen co-operation on the threats we face. We will rebuild relationships with key European allies, including France and Germany, through increased defence and security co-operation. We will seek new bilateral agreements and closer working with Joint Expeditionary Force partners. This will strengthen NATO and keep Britain safe.”

There is no greater detail given here than in previous Labour statements, most crucially on whether the veterinary agreement that will be sought will be on the basis of dynamic alignment (if not, then the EU will not agree to it). The description of these measures, even if they are all achieved, as “tearing down unnecessary barriers to trade” is absurdly hyperbolic: at best, they will be mild improvements.

There is also a slippage between the agreements that Labour will “seek” and that on mutual recognition of qualifications, which it will “secure”, an odd slippage since that latter is likely to be the most difficult to achieve. There is a further slippage, or at least a noteworthy shift of emphasis, in running together a security pact with the EU and commitments to bi-lateral security deals with EU members.

There is some discussion of post-Brexit trade policy on pp.121-122, including implicit commitment to proceeding with CPTPP membership, and commitment that:

“Rather than prioritising insubstantial agreements which do not bring meaningful benefits to the UK, Labour will seek targeted trade agreements aligned with our industrial strategy and economic strengths, to bring prosperity to communities across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. We will publish a trade strategy and use every lever available to get UK business the access it needs to international markets. This will promote the highest standards when it comes to food production. As well as striking new free trade agreements, Labour will seek to negotiate standalone sector deals, such as digital, or mutual recognition agreements, to promote our services exports.”

This seems to presage a more considered trade policy than the Tories have pursued, focussed on substance and strategy rather than (as with, at least, the Australia and New Zealand deals), a performative desire to show a ‘Brexit benefit’. At the very least, it hopefully marks an end to signing stupid trade MoUs with US states.

On trade, and more generally, there is a statement of commitment to multi-lateral institutions, and on p.119 a clear commitment that “Britain will unequivocally remain a member of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Overall comments on the Labour manifesto

As striking as the fact that the manifesto doesn’t say more about Brexit, is that it could hardly have said less. It certainly neither says nor implies what, as recently as last September, Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy said about closer links with the EU being Labour’s “number one” foreign policy goal. It falls even further short of Lammy’s January 2023 Chatham House speech, which at the time I thought was a significant development.

There’s no mention of trying to create a regular UK-EU forum, nor of the European Political Community. Perhaps less surprisingly, given the way it would be used against him by the Tories, there’s no mention of any plan for an asylum seeker agreement of the sort Starmer was apparently considering last year. On the other hand, none of these things are ruled out, nor are the many other possible easements to the UK-EU relationship in terms of participation in programmes like Erasmus.

There are some other, particularly noteworthy, omissions. As mentioned, it isn’t specified whether the SPS (veterinary) deal Labour will seek will be based on dynamic alignment, but it doesn’t rule it out either. Nor, whether in relation to SPS or security data-sharing, is there any reference to ruling out ECJ involvement. That marks a distinct difference from the Tory manifesto, which explicitly rules out both.

On a more positive note, the unequivocal commitment to the ECHR marks a significant stand against what is now the key ‘Brexit 2.0’ demand from Reform, and very likely to emerge as Tory policy after the election. More generally, as Ian Dunt has written on his Substack, the manifesto as a whole can be seen as a wholesale alternative to populism.

Nevertheless, in what is in some ways an impressive document, coming from a party headed for government and riding high in the polls, it is depressingly limited on post-Brexit issues and curiously complacent about the concerns of many likely Labour voters. It is understandable how Labour came to take such a defensive posture but, even within those arguably justifiable parameters, it is startlingly unambitious.

The Liberal Democrats

The LibDems have been trenchant critics of Brexit since 2016. They went into the last election with what I thought at the time, as did many others, to be the utterly indefensible policy of simply revoking the UK’s Article 50 notification and halting Brexit without a referendum. Since then, they have continued to criticise Brexit, and to support eventually reversing it, but have not made it a central campaign focus.

Their manifesto for this election weighs in at a massive 117 pages. The Foreword from Ed Davey does not mention Brexit, but thereafter there are numerous references to it throughout, and then a detailed discussion towards the end of the document.

There are general references to the damage of Brexit and the need to fix it on p.7, p.9, p.11, p.12, and p.61

On p.17 there is a longer criticism of post-Brexit trade terms with the EU and trade deals with the rest of the world, and a general commitment to “prioritise the depth and quality of trade deals, ensuring they deliver benefits for the whole country”.

On p.27 there is a general commitment to working with the EU to tackle the climate emergency, and a specific pledge to link the UK and EU Emissions Trading Systems.

On p.48 there is a commitment to join the Erasmus Plus student exchange programme as an associated country.

On p.58 there are commitments to improve cooperation with the EU on tackling cross-border crime, working with Europol and Eurojust, and full access to relevant EU data sharing systems.

On p.66 there’s a pledge to negotiate a comprehensive SPS agreement.

On p.84 there’s a pledge participate fully in Creative Europe.

On p.88 there’s a commitment to work closely with Europol and the French authorities to stop the smuggling and trafficking gangs; detailed proposals to expand the Youth Mobility Scheme; and commitment to protect the rights of EU citizens and their families in the UK including automatically granting full Settled Status to all those with Pre-Settled Status and providing them with physical proof of their right to stay.

On p.105 there’s a general commitment to lead within Europe on security.

Finally, on pp.110-112 there is a detailed “roadmap” to “fix the UK’s broken relationship with Europe”. Some of this draws together earlier pledges, but also add new ones:

“• Taking initial unilateral steps to rebuild the relationship, starting by declaring a fundamental change in the UK’s approach and improving channels for foreign policy cooperation.

• Rebuilding confidence through seeking to agree partnerships or associations with EU agencies and programmes such as the European Aviation Safety Agency, Erasmus Plus, scientific programmes, climate and environment initiatives, and cooperation on defence, security and crime.

• Deepening the trading relationship with critical steps for the British economy, including negotiating comprehensive veterinary and plant health agreements and mutual recognition agreements.

• Finally, once ties of trust and friendship have been renewed, and the damage the Conservatives have caused to trade between the UK and EU has begun to be repaired, we would aim to place the UK-EU relationship on a more formal and stable footing by seeking to join the Single Market. All these measures will help to restore the British economy and the prosperity and opportunities of its citizens, and are also essential steps on the road to EU membership, which remains our longer-term objective.”

Overall comments on the LibDem manifesto

In a slightly different political universe, this would be the post-Brexit manifesto the Labour Party might have been expected to offer. It recognizes that reversing Brexit, or even just hard Brexit, isn’t in prospect and doesn’t seek to put a timescale on when it will be. Moreover, with those parameters, it provides considerable detail on maximizing cooperation with the EU in ways which are in no sense incompatible with the referendum vote to leave. In that sense, it goes much further than Labour in the scope of its ambition, and much further than the Greens (see below) in the detail it provides

On the other hand, there is a certain naivety in the implication, at least, that all of the proposed deals with the EU are there for the taking, and gives little or no sense of whether and why the EU would agree to them. One particularly noteworthy point, though, is the commitments made to EU nationals in the UK, whose situation, as I have discussed in the past, is little short of a scandal. Delivering these commitments is entirely within the power of the UK government (i.e. they do not require EU agreement) and it is quite disgraceful that they are not made by all the parties.

Current polling gives as a possible, though highly remote, scenario that the LibDems emerge as the main opposition party to a Labour government. If that came to pass, it would be an interesting situation, since both the official opposition and, presumably, the government backbenches would be pushing for considerably closer relationship with the EU than the Labour manifesto specifies.

The Green Party

The Green Party opposed Brexit in 2016 and since then their sole, and now outgoing, MP Caroline Lucas has been one of its most impassioned and articulate critics in the House of Commons. In their manifesto at the last election, they proposed another referendum with a ‘remain’ option. This anti-Brexit position is reflected in their new manifesto, but given surprisingly little prominence, especially as it is an issue where the party might expect to garner votes from the Labour Party and be vulnerable to the LibDems.

Thus, within the 48-page document, the first mention of Brexit is in a bullet point on p.42 expressing the desire to see the UK: “Rejoin and play its full part in the family of nations that is the European Union, as soon as possible”

This is followed by a sub-section, on p.48, entitled “Britain’s future in Europe”, which reiterates the party’s opposition to Brexit and belief that “full membership of the EU remains the best option for the UK”. It then goes on to make the commitments that:

“Green MPs will work towards:

• Re-joining the EU as soon as the domestic political situation is favourable and EU member states are willing.

• Joining the Customs Union as a first step towards full EU membership, and a way of resolving many of the worst problems resulting from Brexit.

• A speedy return to the free movement of people between the UK and the EU, including reciprocal rights to work for both UK and European citizens.

• Rejoining the Erasmus Programme, which enables students to study for a year in another European country.”

Overall comments on the Green Party manifesto

The Greens’ commitment to re-joining is unequivocal, although there is nothing said about what process for this is envisaged (e.g. the terms of any future referendum) nor about what a “favourable” domestic situation would look like.

Given this commitment, it is surprising that the Greens’ plans for relations with the EU in the meantime are so thin, far more so than those of the LibDems. It is quite puzzling.

It also seems strange that joining the Customs Union (which in any case is a misnomer: non-EU members can’t join the customs union, but might be able to negotiate a customs union with the EU) and free movement of people are both mentioned, but not single market membership.

It is, after all, freedom of movement which was one of the main reasons the Tory government eschewed single market membership after the referendum, along, perhaps secondarily, with regulatory harmonization and ECJ jurisdiction, to which so far as I know the Greens have no objection. So, since, in terms of economic impact, single market membership would almost certainly be greater than a customs union, so why, apparently, prioritise the latter? Again, it is quite puzzling.

Plaid Cymru

As in England, there was a majority for Brexit in Wales in the referendum. For that reason, Brexit does not play the same role in the politics of independence that it does in Scotland. Plaid Cymru was opposed to Brexit, and has repeatedly drawn attention to the damage it has done to Wales, specifically.

The current manifesto reflects this, referring on p.7 to the damage Brexit has done to trade and the economy.

On p.8 there is a robust call for a move towards ‘soft Brexit’, on economic grounds: “We respected the result of the referendum, but, with the Conservatives having led us down a path of destruction, we believe that the UK should re-enter the European Single Market and Customs Union at the earliest opportunity, in order to mitigate the impact of Brexit on Welsh business and reduce overheads and administrative costs. This will help us improve trade with our European neighbours, including the Republic of Ireland, assisting our Welsh ports at Holyhead and Fishguard amongst others.”

On p.46 there is criticism that “Westminster’s post-Brexit trade deals have allowed more cheap imports to undermine our domestic markets. The Tories have also broken their promise of “not a penny less” in farm funding to Wales, leaving Wales hundreds of millions of pounds worse off.” This is followed by a policy pledge to “give Wales a veto over future trade deals that undermine Welsh agricultural communities.”

On p. 51, it is made clear that the party has a policy to re-join the EU, with ‘soft Brexit’ only being an interim measure: “We believe that Wales would be best served by re-joining the European Union at an appropriate point in time, recognising the failure of Brexit. In the meantime, the UK should join the European Single Market and Customs Union as soon as practical.”

Also on p.51: “Wales should be enabled to participate in pan-European programmes, supporting our university and creative sectors in particular, and allowing the Freedom of Movement which has been damagingly denied since leaving the European Union. Until then, the Welsh Government should participate fully in the structures governing the current EU-UK relationship, under the Withdrawal and Trade and Co-operation Agreements. Wales should be at the table whenever decisions are made about and for us.”

Finally, on p. 65: “Although Wales is not a member of the European Union, we will examine how we can participate and benefit from the international Creative Europe programme.”

Overall comments on the Plaid Cymru manifesto

Although Brexit does not figure extensively in its 72-page manifesto, Plaid Cymru clearly supports softening and then reversing it. However, there is no indication of the process or specific timescale for doing either of these things.

Unsurprisingly, the manifesto draws particular attention to the impacts of Brexit which have had the greatest bearing on, specifically, Wales, namely port trade and farming. There is also support for participation in EU programmes, and although the only one specifically named is Creative Europe, the implication is that all forms of participation would be welcome.

The manifesto also supports the UK remaining a member of the European Court of Human Rights and in that respect, and more generally, is anti-populist in tone.

Reform UK

The 28 page Reform manifesto is rather pretentiously described ‘Our Contract with You’ to suggest that it is different to other party manifestos just as the party itself is supposedly anti-Establishment.

Nigel Farage’s cover page says “Brexit is the opportunity of a lifetime”, but also reprises the slogan “once and for all, we will take back control over our borders, our money and our laws” implying it has yet to be done ‘properly’.

On p.4, as part of proposals to cut government waste, it is stated: “Brexit Bonus. Cut Unnecessary Regulations Britain still retains over 6,700 EU laws. Government red tape and nanny state regulations are estimated to have cost the UK economy £143 billion since 2015. That means £ billions lost in growth and taxes.”

p.13 is entirely devoted to Brexit, pledging that “Reform UK will do what the Tories have failed to - grasp the huge opportunities of Brexit”. Specifically, the party pledges to immediately revoke all remaining retained EU Law. It then states, largely correctly, that “British laws on State Aid, Competition, Employment, Net Zero and the Environment are still based on EU regulations”, apparently implying that all of these will be scrapped or changed, but, if so, then it does not say in what ways.

The next pledge on the Brexit page is to immediately (and apparently unilaterally) abandon the Windsor Framework. However, in saying in the same place that it is “unacceptable” for Northern Ireland to be in the single market for goods and for EU law to apply there, the implication is that the Northern Ireland Protocol as a whole will be abandoned.

The Brexit page goes on to say that the UK having re-joined the Horizon programme “means we send money to the European Defence Fund and part of the EU’s military mobility project. Our Armed Forces are at risk of being sucked into an EU Command and Control Force.” It is quite difficult to understand what this means, but may be a reference to Horizon funding defence research but, if so, it is puzzling as my understanding is that the European Defence Fund has its own research budget, though that does include funds diverted from Horizon. Nor, so far as I know, though I may be wrong, does Horizon membership carry any implications for command and control of UK armed forces. At all events, the implication is that Reform would leave Horizon, although this isn’t explicitly stated.

Finally on the Brexit page it states: “Prepare for Renegotiations on the EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement. A so-called EU ‘level playing field’ is holding us back.” It isn’t clear if this refers to the scheduled TCA review, which isn’t a renegotiation, or if it implies that Reform would seek to re-negotiate the TCA. Either way, there is no prospect of the level playing field provisions being removed. It is not clear if, in that case, Reform would simply withdraw from the TCA altogether.

p.18 is about agriculture, and headed “British Farming Needs Reform to Take Advantage of Brexit”. There is a list of reforms, though it isn’t clear which of them relates to Brexit per se.

p.19 is about fishing. It doesn’t explicitly mention Brexit, but promises to “stop EU fishers taking UK quotas”.

On p.23 there is a costing of the manifesto, which includes its “Brexit pledges” as contributing to assumptions of the manifesto proposals generating 1%-1.5% extra growth in the economy, although it does not say the extent of the contribution of the Brexit pledges specifically.

Overall comments on the Reform manifesto

One point of interest is that although the manifesto implies that Brexit has been betrayed, it doesn’t use that word, whereas the draft version, prepared when Richard Tice was still leader, although in other respects similar, did so on the cover page. It’s a subtle but significant change.

The final manifesto says relatively little about Brexit directly. What it does say is almost completely unrealistic. There is no understanding of what the consequences of scrapping all Retained EU Law would be, which, far from boosting growth would cause immediate economic dislocation (which is why the Tory government retreated on its original plans to do so).

Unilaterally scrapping the Windsor Framework and, apparently, the NI Protocol would massively destabilize Northern Ireland and provoke immediate and direct crisis with the EU (and the US). Even assuming the TCA survived that crisis, the idea that the level playing field commitments can be renegotiated or removed is absurd.

The other proposals are vague, and in some cases don’t even make sense.

Taken as a whole, these proposals are impractical, ignorant and dangerous.

Generally, the manifesto is populist in tone and proposals, which include a commitment to leave the ECHR.

The Scottish National Party

The SNP has consistently and vigorously opposed Brexit since 2016, not least because in the referendum a majority in Scotland voted to remain. Their 32 page manifesto continues to emphasise this position.

John Swinney’s manifesto Foreword criticises the Tory government which “imposed Brexit” and says the answer to that government is “not more Brexit” which “is what the Labour Party is committed to”. It goes on to say that “the Westminster conspiracy of silence between Labour and the Conservatives on the cuts to come and on the damage of Brexit, demonstrates that decisions about Scotland’s future should be taken in Scotland.”

The list of pledges (p.4) includes: “Rejoin the EU, reverse the damage of Brexit and re-enter the single market restoring free movement for EU citizens.”

On p.7, the case of Scottish independence is made, and within it there is the statement that “Brexit has wiped billions of pounds from our economy compared with EU membership and made the cost of living crisis worse by pushing up food prices and other household costs.”

The whole of pp12-13 is about Brexit. The first of these pages states that “Brexit has been a disaster for Scotland” and that the Scottish people were “dragged out against our will and are powerless to escape the consequences.” The various negative consequences, economic and non-economic are summarised.

On p.13 the benefits of rejoining the EU are listed, and contrasted with the fact that: “The Tories and Labour don’t want to talk about what we’ve lost, or how much worse off we are with Brexit. But ignoring Brexit is ignoring the cost of living, the economy and, fundamentally, the views of Scotland. These Brexit harms will continue no matter who is in charge at Westminster.”

On p.15, which is about the cost of living crisis, it is stated that “with independence we can reverse Brexit and austerity which are making the cost of living more expensive and have been imposed upon us against our will.”

On p.17, which is about the Scottish parliament and devolution, it is repeated that the Scottish people “voted overwhelmingly against” Brexit, and adds that “since Brexit, we have seen a complete disregard for Scotland’s democratic institutions”, including particular reference to the Internal Market Act.

On p.21, the policies listed include to: “mitigate the harm of Brexit on productivity by reviewing immigration rules and expanding shortage occupation lists”; “increase funding for farming to at least pre-Brexit levels”; “agree a veterinary agreement with the EU to ease exports and imports”; increase Scotland’s post-Brexit share of marine funding and improve post-Brexit provision for Scottish fisheries.

On p.27, there is a call for the UK to agree an EU-wide youth mobility scheme.

Overall comments on the SNP manifesto

The manifesto unsurprisingly, but nonetheless strikingly, is robust in opposing Brexit, and in calling for a rejoin policy. It strongly weaves this policy together with its primary policy of independence and also with its anti-austerity economics, and its more general programme. I think it is fair to say that it is the most forcefully anti-Brexit manifesto of the major parties, including the LibDems.

Whilst unequivocal in support for re-joining the EU, the manifesto does not specify a timescale or process, and the implication is that doing so would be contingent upon Scottish independence first being achieved. This is also implied by the manifestos references to the fact that neither a Conservative nor a Labour government would reverse Brexit.

There is relatively little mention of ways that the UK-EU relationship could be improved in the absence of the re-joining the EU, but it is clear that the SNP would be likely to support an SPS deal and a youth mobility deal.

The manifesto also supports the UK remaining a member of the European Court of Human Rights and in that respect, and more generally, is anti-populist in tone.

Alliance Party of Northern Ireland

Alliance is a non-sectarian party, which was opposed to Brexit. Reflecting the particular issues and challenges that Brexit has created for Northern Ireland (NI) large parts of the 48-page manifesto are concerned with it in one way or another, and especially the Windsor Framework (WF), to the extent that I will only indicate the very broad outlines.

In the manifesto’s list of ten key policies, one is “Repairing the UK-EU relationship, including negotiating a comprehensive Veterinary Agreement and better promoting dual market access under the Windsor Framework.”

On p.5 there is a commitment to “the promotion of dual market access for Northern Ireland” stressing that “the Windsor Framework provides NI with a relative opportunity compared to the rest of the UK in relation to unfettered access for goods”.

On p.6 there is a summary of the party’s position: “We believe Brexit was and continues to be fundamentally destructive for the UK as a whole. For Northern Ireland, it poses huge challenges for our economy, environment, society and wider political stability. We support the special arrangements provided for under the Windsor Framework but we want to improve its implementation to help people and businesses in NI. We want: • A negotiated Veterinary Medicines Agreement and a grace period for the next phase of goods labelling in the interim. • Improved information and assistance to businesses based in Great Britain regarding trading in NI. • Early and enhanced engagement between Northern Ireland’s elected representatives, Executive departments and other stakeholders in the development of EU law.”

Within p.20 there is an injunction that the government must “avoid taking any steps or failing to keep EU law up-to-date that would undermine this comparative advantage [of the dual economy]”.

Within p.21 attention is drawn to NI’s loss of EU structural, regional and social funds and the need to replace them.

On p.29 there is a long section on ‘Protecting the Common Travel Area”, much of which is bound up in some way or other with Brexit.

The whole of pp. 34-36 is given over to a chapter on relations with the EU. The party’s policy is to re-join the EU “at an early opportunity”, because whilst the party supports initiatives such as the WF, they “recognise that some aspects of Brexit amount to a circle that cannot be entirely squared” and believe that “only a full reversal of Brexit can resolve all of the tensions, contradictions and limitations that it poses”.

Until or unless that happens, the second section of this chapter sets out extensive detail on how the WF can/ needs to be better operated. There is another long section on ways in which the UK-EU relationship, more generally, can be improved, with the party supporting a wide range of possible agreements and participation in programmes and agencies.

The manifesto is committed to ECHR membership, putting particular emphasis on its significance to the Good Friday Agreement, support for which is a central plank of its policy platform. Generally, the manifesto is anti-populist in tone and policy commitments.

Overall comments on the Alliance manifesto

Whilst being robust in its opposition to Brexit, the manifesto is primarily focussed on dealing with the practical problems it poses for NI, in particular. In this sense, it is the most detailed of the manifestos I’ve reviewed so far in terms of its Brexit provisions. In relation to UK-EU relations, it supports policies which might ‘make Brexit work’ (this phrase is not used in the manifesto, however) which are far more extensive than Labour’s manifesto and similar in extent.

The Democratic Unionist Party

The DUP was and is strongly pro-Brexit, and propped up Theresa May’s government as it developed hard Brexit. However, it opposed Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal because it entailed Norther Ireland (NI) remaining in the single market for goods, and to that extent subject to EU Law, which also created an Irish Sea border.

As with the Alliance Party, because Brexit has affected NI in so many specific ways, many parts of the DUP’s 48-page manifesto could be seen as related to, if only indirectly. However, the main aspects are contained in the section entitled “Promoting the Union and removing barriers within the United Kingdom” on pp. 14-16.

In these pages, the DUPs core policy of rejecting the provisions of the NI Protocol and Windsor Framework is re-stated: “we will continue to fight to fully restore Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom, including removing the application of EU law in our country and the internal Irish Sea Border it creates. We will continue to argue the case for the full primacy of the United Kingdom internal market and we will continue to reject the undermining of its integrity.” However, no alternative is suggested.

Also within these pages, the DUP indicates that the changes to the Windsor Framework (WF) that it agreed to represented progress but “there is still more to do”. It is not clear what that means, specifically, especially whether it implies further changes to the WF (if so, this seems unlikely).

I did not see any mention of the ECHR, and there is no implication of DUP support for derogation from it. The proposals as regards immigration are relatively liberal, mainly in recognition of NI’s labour needs. I do not think this manifesto could be characterised as populist, although one or two proposals have a tang of that. Other policy positions (most obviously opposition to abortion laws) could be described as socially conservative.

Overall comments on the DUP manifesto

On the core issue of Brexit, the DUP remains stuck on the hook of the incompatibility between its support for hard Brexit and its opposition to what that means in practice for NI. This remains one of the oddest aspects of the politics of Brexit.

In immediate, practical terms, this leaves some unanswered questions. In particular, to what extent would the DUP support or oppose the UK government agreeing closer relations with the EU (e.g. an SPS deal) given that this would mean a ‘softening’ of hard Brexit but also a ‘thinning’ of the Irish Sea border?


Corrections and clarifications

I missed the fact the LibDem manifesto (p.28) commits to implementing the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), although does not specify linking UK CBAM and EU CBAM, although this is perhaps implicit in the commitment I did identify, to link UK and EU ETSs (p.27). Thanks to the reader, who does not wish to be named, who pointed this out.

I also missed that the LibDem manifesto (p.63) supports applying to join the European Environment Agency. Thanks to Nigel Haigh of IEEP UK for pointing this out.

Regarding my puzzlement over the Greens’ lack of reference to seeking single market (SM) membership, it seems that earlier this year the party stated its opposition to the SM in its present form. This was highlighted by the X-Twitter poster LittleGravitas with a screengrab of the relevant document (the link to which no longer displays it, but goes to the manifesto). If this is explanation, what then becomes puzzling is the commitment to rejoin the EU eventually, as this would entail SM membership. It’s worth recalling that there is a longstanding tradition of Euroscepticism within the Green movement, not dissimilar to that of Lexiters.

Since its manifesto was published, it has been reported that Labour plan to align and link UK and EU CBAM and ETS. If so, it will be an interesting example of how, in government, Labour will not confine itself to those measures listed in the manifesto, as well as being important and beneficial in its own right.


  1. Just so I understand this correctly: Labour want an improvement of the trade relationship without offering anything to the EU themselves?

    1. No, I don't think that's the case. An SPS deal, for example, would reduce trade frictions in both directions

    2. A comprehensive SPS deal would require the UK to be a rule taker, something, which Starmer has already ruled out. https://www.turbulenttimes.co.uk/news/brexit/brexit-swiss-style-not-an-option/

  2. It is ironic though that even outside the EU and without a SPS agreement the U.K. still has to be a rule taker, if it want to export to the EU so it’s irrelevant whether there is or there’s isn’t a SPS agreement with regards to “sovereignty”.

  3. Thank you for this very informative piece.
    I hope you will add the Sinn Fein,
    the largest party in the NI Assembly
    to your analysis. There would be a distinct gap without it.
    Brian Doherty

    1. This isn't an NIA election, it's a Westminster election and SF stand but don't send their MPs there. So, no, I won't.

  4. You could say more about the Conservatives' recognition of the need for more Brexit infrastructure. This includes infrastructure for creating the biometric data shortly to be required for entry into the EU: Farage's finger-printing to follow on from Farage's garages.