It’s an odd feature of the current often confused state of British politics that virtually all the parties now agree on Brexit – it needs to be renegotiated.
Labour, rather quietly, plainly think Brexit leaves much to be desired – after all, most of them campaigned for Remain. The party doesn’t make a big fuss about it, but the hints are getting heavier.
A few months ago Keir Starmer plainly issued an informal fatwa on even mentioning the “B-word”, and figures such as Lisa Nandy and Andy Burnham have been making noises about reconciliation with Brexity northern and midlands working-class voters.
Now Labour wants to “make Brexit work”, a vague, eerie echo of Theresa May’s “Brexit that works for everyone”. It means renegotiation because you can’t make Brexit work without changing the treaty and protocols. David Lammy, even more passionate about Europe than most of the rest of the Labour front bench, has said as much too: “This is his [Boris Johnson’s] deal. When we come to government, we’ll have to look at how we fix his deal.”
You can see why, if you’re sat in a queue for petrol, Labour is tiptoeing back to the idea of renegotiating Brexit, as people start to have second thoughts and some of the practical difficulties make themselves known. But how would a softer Brexit be consistent with Labour’s pledge to make things more sound in Britain – a cuddly version of protectionism?
More surprising, though not remarked upon enough, is that the geezers who actually negotiated Brexit, campaigned for it, won the referendum and then a general election – yes, Boris Johnson and Lord David Frost – really do want to renegotiate the terms of Brexit. Changing the Northern Ireland Protocol means renegotiating Brexit, simple as that, and once it’s opened up then there’s nothing to stop the EU (for example, the French) reopening grievances such as fishing rights. In Brussels, Berlin and Paris they won’t be bothered if it’s Starmer or Johnson bleating about fairness; they’ll get short shrift.
There’s a lot still to argue about then, and, whatever else it proves, it shows that Brexit didn’t get “done” and the famous Johnson oven-ready deal was a bit half-baked. The bad news is that the tiresome (albeit vital) arguments about Brexit aren’t going to go away. The even worse news is that they will mostly serve to entrench both sides in their belief that the country has been betrayed (workers by the Tories or by the EU), and the culture wars about Brexit will just drag and drag on.
Imagine what renegotiating Brexit might mean. Rejoining the single market and/or the EU customs union would mean more EU migration, tearing up trade deals with the likes of Australia that have been signed, and reversing whatever new laws and rules we’ve made up for ourselves.
Then again not renegotiating a botched Brexit is also an unpalatable prospect – shortages, higher costs for business, lost markets... for the last 60 years, since the first application to join the European Communities was filed in 1961, the British have been wrangling and divided about Europe. They always will be.