The writing is on the wall – Starmer and Brussels will undo Brexit

A giant clock projected onto 10 Downing Street counts down to 23.00 when the UK has officially left the European Union
A giant clock projected onto 10 Downing Street counts down to 23.00 when the UK has officially left the European Union

It often feels, in Britain, that we specialise in losing: our sense of self, the good bits of our history, and most especially our winning ideas, which we seem to delight in either letting others steal and sell, or ruin with terrible follow-through. We did it with Blair’s noble impulse to help unseat Saddam Hussein, the monster of the Middle East, and now we’re doing it with Brexit.

I was a Remain voter, but found the arguments for Brexit compelling, especially those around sovereignty. I didn’t see why so many found it a topic for sniggering mockery, or assumed it was a mere cover for “xenophobia and racism”. After all, as the World Values Survey found in 2023, Britain is one of the least racist countries in the world.

For a while, I began to suspect, those mocking the little people’s desire for “sovereignty” were actually using it as cover for exercising their own bigotry against the white working class. But perhaps they really, truly do not care whether or not they have any say over who governs them.

After all, eight years out from the Brexit vote, Remoaners simply will not let go of their hysterical continentalism. And now that Labour has shaken free of its “Lexit” contingent, or at least found the will to ignore it, it is rapidly reverting to type. Sentiment in the Party appears to be coalescing around a simpering yearning to be back in the warm, undemocratic, increasingly authoritarian embrace of the EU.

Sir Keir Starmer, our likely next prime minister, appears to be busily preparing to undo as much of Brexit as he can. He hasn’t been particularly secretive about this goal: speaking in Montreal last September, he set out a simple stance on Europe: “We don’t want to diverge, we don’t want to lower standards, we don’t want to rip up environmental standards, standards for people that work, food standards and all the rest of it.”

Labour’s top brass, meanwhile, have begun to confirm Starmer’s planned re-embrace of the EU. Starmer has insisted he won’t rejoin the customs union, the single market, or open Britain’s borders. “The red lines will be in the manifesto and won’t change,” the FT quoted one Labour figure saying. “But are we ambitious behind those red lines? Of course we are. We want to deepen the relationship.”

Much may lie in that “but”. The FT reports that former EU trade commissioner Lord Mandelson last month told a private gathering that Labour could well make steps towards dynamic alignment, or giving the European Court of Justice jurisdiction over Britain.

There are now signs Britain is inching in this direction. Just the other day, a Labour spokesman declared that the Party was interested in “seeking a veterinary agreement to tackle trade barriers”, and “mutual recognition of professional qualifications”. Other reports have suggested that the Party might try to do something that looks suspiciously like a customs union with a more voter-friendly name.

And it appears that Brussels is listening. The EU is now waving a tempting offer under Labour’s nose: a freedom of movement-style deal for those aged 18-30, where young people could cross the channel for up to four years, working, travelling and studying.

Britain has certainly suffered from the exodus of European waiters, baristas and au pairs, so it’s hard not to salivate at this one, especially given the reciprocal freedoms for British young people. We have similar programmes with Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Iceland, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented. But when it comes to Europe, there’s a catch: with each closer re-embrace will come more ties that bind.

Very few people doubted the conveniences occasioned by membership of the EU. The issue was that a large swathe of the electorate, including many who benefited from them, found that these conveniences did not outweigh the core principle of retaining control over our own laws and trade agreements, and more specifically our control over those who make them. The ceconomic gains were outweighed by the democratic deficit.

And even now, we occasionally get a rude reminder of why keeping well clear of the EU’s power structures is so important for that democracy, in the short as well as the long term.

It is increasingly clear that beneath the surface of the bloc lies a set of controlling tendencies that are smugly authoritarian and ideologically skewed to the worst bits of leftism – rabid greenism, distrust of hard work, and the “anti-racism” that encourages large migrant communities to mock Western laws and values.

It’s these tendencies that mean rule makers in the EU’s service often appear ill at ease with lawful free speech when it’s Right-wing. Just look at the debacle that unfolded in Brussels last week.

I have little time for the agenda of the National Conservatives, who held, or tried to hold, their annual conference in that city. But like everyone else sane, I was shocked to watch police swarm the venue during a speech by Nigel Farage, having been instructed to shut the event down in case “provocative and discriminatory” views were aired that were “deemed homophobic, non-respectful of people and minorities”.

Seriously? This was hardly the “far-Right”, as any European ought to know. Natcon’s actual crime is to be critical of the bloc, keen on the nation, and other standard hallmarks of the traditional (not “hard”) right – family, kin, religion and community.

Do we really want to rejoin a vast and “ever-closer union” that can’t tell the difference between a neo-Nazi rally and a harmless conference? Freedom of trade and quick airport queues are all tempting, but the British people chose freedom instead. Labour forgets that at its peril.