Gordon Brown has reiterated his stance on Britain rejoining the European Union while endorsing Sir Keir Starmer’s pragmatic approach to handling Brexit.
The former Labour prime minister told an audience in London that many people “feel very frustrated” the UK is outside the EU.
He pointed out that Brexit has already had tangible effects on the British economy, citing statistics from the London School of Economics (LSE) that attribute a third of the rise in food prices to the country’s exit from the bloc.
Mr Brown made his comments during a Guardian Live event about his forthcoming book Permacrisis: A Plan To Fix A Fractured World, which addresses various pressing global challenges, including the escalating climate crisis, geopolitical tensions like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rising nationalism, surging inflation and growing inequality.
Despite expressing his belief that rejoining the EU is crucial for the prosperity and stability of the UK, the former PM commended the efforts of the Labour Party leader to build bridges and make the public aware of the complexities involved in rejoining.
Told by newspaper columnist Jonathan Freedland “you are one of the very few major figures in the country who has said Britain should rejoin the European Union”, Mr Brown said: “I have always said it.
“I can see it from Scotland as well as from London, people in other parts of the country, as well as London, many voted to stay in the European Union and feel very frustrated we are outside it.
“Now, I accept that is going to be a difficult road back and I also accept what Keir Starmer is trying to do to build bridges, but at the same time making sure that people understand the problems that he faces as a result of that.
“But I would be talking about trade agreements between America and Britain and Europe and America at the moment, and I’d be talking about the danger to our economy if we actually become isolationist and protectionist.
“I do think people will begin to understand that when they see the price of food, I mean … a third of the rise in the food price according to LSE, London School of Economics, is caused by Brexit, so people are starting to see the effects on the household budgets of what is happening.”
Mr Brown underscored the importance of scientific collaboration such as Horizon Europe and the benefits of initiatives like the student exchange programme Erasmus. He also suggested exploring joint ventures with institutions like the European Investment Bank to address the nation’s “massive infrastructure needs”.
The former Labour leader dismissed the idea that if Britain were to join, it would have to adopt the single currency, suggesting that French president Emmanuel Macron’s proposal for a political community, larger than the EU, suggests a different kind of European integration.
“They cannot make it a condition for countries that are not ready to join a single currency to join. So you’re talking about a very different kind of Europe but the principle remains the same, that we are better off when we co-operate”, he said.
On whether Sir Keir should be bolder and point out that the UK is worse off with Brexit, Mr Brown joked: “Well, I’m not the best person to give advice about winning an election, am I?”
He added: “I gotta be realistic. I can put it down to many things, but I’ve got to take some responsibility myself.
“So, I think as I said earlier, the best advice to Keir Starmer is not to take my advice. I think you’ll see us being a very internationalist Labour. A very internationalist party.”
Elsewhere during the event, which lasted for around a hour and a half, Mr Brown also urged people to give Sir Keir a “chance”, insisting he is a “really good guy” and the “future”.
Asked if there are any ideological differences between what the Brown-Blair government and Sir Keir, he said: “I do plead with people who look at the politics: give Keir Starmer a chance. He is a really good guy. He is a really good guy.
“I have worked with him over many years. I have seen him at work as director of public prosecution under the Labour government. I’ve seen him when he’s been a spokesman … for the Labour Party. And I’ve seen him as an individual constituency MP and I’ve known him right throughout that period.
“I tell you that his values are values that I respect, are values that can help change Britain, are values that will make us a more socially just country. Keir Starmer is the future.”