Keir Starmer, the shadow secretary for leaving the EU, gave a speech yesterday that was meant to clear the air on what Labour’s election policy on Brexit really, actually in fact is. Of course, it only led to more confusion.
I work in public policy in Westminster. I work in public policy specifically on Brexit at present. And I genuinely do not understand what Labour’s policy on Brexit entails in even the most broadest strokes. If I had to explain it on a doorstep, I would be completely screwed.
Let’s start from square one: are they for or against leaving the EU? The best I can get to in terms of answering this question is that it is the same as it was a few months ago: they think it’s a horrible idea and will cause catastrophe, but you lot voted for it so that’s what you’ll be getting. Labour might offer a second referendum to “rectify” this “anomaly” – or they might not. Ask them again tomorrow.
Are Labour in favour of staying in the single market? I don’t know. I really don’t. They say they are one minute, but then turn around to say they want to end freedom of movement, which they know contains a massive logical inconsistency. Except of course when Corbyn says he is in favour of freedom of movement, which he says all the time and will no doubt say again. This isn’t just confusion between members of the shadow cabinet either, but even within Keir Starmer’s own brain. Yesterday he said a few times that freedom of movement “must end” before going on to say “there has to be movement of people to come and work in this country. How that’s managed will have to be resolved but the last thing we want is for our businesses to go bankrupt”. From what Starmer said yesterday you could draw almost any conclusion on Labour’s supposed position on single market membership and freedom of movement. Which I suspect was the idea: he was playing to two audiences, the left-liberals who are anti-Brexit and pro-immigration, and the pro-Brexit contingent of their core vote. What neither Starmer nor anyone else on the Labour frontbench seems to have worked out is that by attempting to do this, they are actually speaking to neither audience.
To the London based liberal Labour person, it seems like the party is anti-immigration and pro-Brexit; to the Blue Labour type in Middlesbrough, it looks like Labour are trying to stop Brexit or at least keep freedom of movement from the EU alive. Labour are desperate to avoid talking about Brexit as it is clear they have nothing of even the remotest cogency to say on the matter. Yet every single other political party in Britain wants to make the election about Brexit as much as humanly possible. Thus, I can’t see this ending well for Labour this side of June 8th.