Why Brexit is in the news... again

Sir Keir Starmer said 'we don’t want to diverge' from EU rules - remarks which made the front of Friday's Daily Mail. (BBC/PA)
Sir Keir Starmer said 'we don’t want to diverge' from EU rules - remarks which made the front of Friday's Daily Mail. (BBC/PA)

What's happening? “Starmer lets cat out of bag on Brexit betrayal,” read the front page of Friday’s Daily Mail.

It’s a headline which wouldn’t have looked out of place during the “Brexit wars” of 2019. But nearly four years after the UK departed the EU, Brexit is still in the news.

It comes after Sky News obtained footage of Labour leader Keir Starmer saying “we don’t want to diverge” from EU rules at a conference of centre-left leaders in Canada.

The more the UK and Brussels “share a future together”, the less friction there will be, Starmer told the international summit of progressive politicians over the weekend.

The comments have been seized on by opponents given Starmer’s past anti-Brexit stance (though as leader he has ruled out rejoining the EU, the customs union and the single market) and the fact the latest polling suggests he is likely to be the next prime minister.

Here, Yahoo News UK rounds up what is happening in the latest Brexit row.

What exactly did Starmer say?

In the video obtained by Sky News, Starmer said: “Most of the conflict with the UK being outside of the [EU] arises in so far as the UK wants to diverge and do different things to the rest of our EU partners.

"Obviously the more we share values, the more we share a future together, the less the conflict. And actually different ways of solving problems become available.

"Actually we don't want to diverge, we don't want to lower standards, we don't want to rip up environmental standards, working standards for people that work, food standards and all the rest of it.

"So suddenly, you're in a space where, notwithstanding the obvious fact that we're outside the EU and not in the EEA [European Economic Area], there's a lot more common ground than you might think."

As leader, Starmer had previously hinted he would seek a closer relationship with the EU if he wins power, but has always exercised caution in discussing these plans publicly.

How have the Conservatives responded?

Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative party leader Boris Johnson poses as he hammers a
Boris Johnson's 'get Brexit done' campaign propelled the Tories to electoral success in 2019. (AFP via Getty Images)

With glee. In order to win a majority at the general election, Labour will likely need to woo parts of the electorate which voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum and also switched to Boris Johnson following his “get Brexit done” campaign ahead of the 2019 election.

And given the Conservatives are trailing Labour by 21 points in the latest YouGov voting intention tracker, Tory ministers have seized on Starmer’s remarks as a potential dividing line.

For example, chancellor Jeremy Hunt told LBC: “I think those kinds of comments about not wanting to diverge will worry a lot of people that what he really wants to do is to unpick Brexit.

“I think any suggestion that you want to align our laws and regulations with the EU will worry a lot of the people who voted for Brexit.”

Foreign secretary James Cleverly posted on X, formerly known as Twitter: “Keir voted remain. Then he backed a second referendum. Then he didn’t. Now he wants to rejoin the EU in all but name. What does Labour stand for?”

What is Labour now saying about Brexit?

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves during a visit to the London Stock Exchange Group, to outline Labour's plans to bring growth and stability back to Britain's economy. Picture date: Friday September 22, 2023. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
Sir Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves during a visit to the London Stock Exchange on Friday. (PA Images via Getty Images)

On Friday, in his first comments since the footage emerged, Starmer defended his approach to dealing with the EU.

He told reporters there was “no case for rejoining the EU, no case for the customs union or single market” and laws would be “made in this country for the public interest”.

But he added: “That does not mean that a Labour government would lower standards on food or lower the rights that people have at work. That’s been consistent Labour Party policy for years. Incidentally, that’s also government policy.”

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves was also forced to go on the defensive and insist a Labour government wouldn’t undo Brexit.

Reeves said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We don’t want to rejoin the EU in name or any other way, we accept the result of the referendum.”

But, in comments which echoed Starmer’s from the weekend, she added Labour does want “a better relationship with our nearest neighbours and trading partners”.

She insisted there would not be “dynamic alignment”, where the UK follows changes from Brussels, and “we are not going to be rule takers”.

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