British Labor reconciles with Brexit and promises that the UK will not return to the EU | International
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There was a time not too long ago when Brexit was toxic stuff in UK domestic politics. Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labor Party, avoided talking about the “issue that begins with B”, the tagline used these years in political jargon, aware of the deep divisions it caused among left-wing voters, and how a good number of them , supporters of the United Kingdom leaving the EU, ended up supporting Boris Johnson in the 2019 elections. He chose to remain crouched, and see how the Conservative government was unable to achieve the happy Arcadia that it had promised, once broken the chains with Brussels.
Starmer has presented this Monday his five proposals so that “Brexit works” (Make Brexit Work) at the Center for European Reform, the organization that has done the most to keep the UK debate on leaving the EU alive and rigorous. The Labor leader has been blunt in stating that his party, in the case of reaching the Government, will not try to reincorporate the United Kingdom into the Internal Market or the community customs area, nor will it seek to recover the freedom of movement of people. It was the way to close an internal discussion that relevant figures of Labor are still alive, such as the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. “Returning to these discussions would not help stimulate economic growth, nor would it lower food prices, much less help British business to compete in the modern world. It would simply be the recipe for more internal division,” said Starmer.
With the fog of the pandemic dispelled, and its economic effects, the negative consequences of Brexit are now difficult to conceal. Foreign trade has been significantly reduced, due to customs frictions that the Johnson government itself has done little to alleviate. The standoff over the Northern Ireland Protocol, and London’s threat to unilaterally scrap it, has revived the threat of a trade war between the two blocs. And the inflation unleashed in the United Kingdom, of 9% (and the Bank of England’s forecast that it will reach almost 11% by the end of the year), is due to global causes such as the invasion of Ukraine and the rise in the price of energy, yes, but Brexit has also contributed to prices in supermarkets being at unsustainable levels, and this is defended by rigorous studies such as the one recently prepared by the Peterson Institute for International Economics. If 30% of Britons blamed leaving the EU in June 2021 for their worsening standard of living, now the figure is almost half (45%), according to the recent Ipsos UK survey.
With all this data, the time has come for Starmer to overcome the Brexit taboo and use it as a Labor electoral weapon to confront the Johnson Government.
The Labor Party has especially harshly criticized the Johnson Government’s decision to promote a law in Parliament that unilaterally annuls a large part of the provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the delicate text negotiated between London and Brussels to fit that conflictive British region in the post-Brexit era. Starmer proposes looking for practical solutions such as a new agreement on agricultural-livestock matters that allows standardizing the regulations and controls between both blocks and that eliminates a large part of the current controls. And something similar in terms of exports, with mutual trust trade schemes that help reduce paperwork. In reality, Starmer’s proposals are not very different from those recently put forward by Downing Street. The difference lies in Labour’s insistence on reducing problems through negotiations with Brussels, and not through unilateral breaches of international obligations. “The key difference is that the UK must go back to being a respected and trusted negotiating agent,” Starmer said.
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The same agreement to coordinate health regulations between London and Brussels, says Starmer, could be extended to the entire United Kingdom. They would undergo a mutual recognition process that would make things easier for companies, in the same way as the quality standards between the United Kingdom and the EU, the Labor leader has assured. Something similar was proposed at the time by the former Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May, when she was trying to carry out her own Brexit agreement. In her case, she had to agree to have key products submitted directly to Community regulations. And Starmer would face, in his case, the same problem of lack of confidence in Brussels, which is hardly convinced by a proposal based exclusively on good faith.
Starmer’s proposals, which are completed with the idea of facilitating the mutual recognition of professional qualifications (that a lawyer from the EU or one from the United Kingdom have easier mutual access to their respective markets), the increase in research agreements science, and a new security pact, do not differ much from what the Boris Johnson government is pursuing. But they make an apparent difference in spirit, with the will to negotiate and understand the EU instead of constantly using Brexit as a throwing weapon and an excuse to dispel internal political problems. Above all, it serves to put on the table the issue that nobody wanted to talk about, and that continues to intensely affect the day-to-day life of the British.
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