A Keir Starmer Brexit is nothing to be afraid of. Don't believe the Tory baloney, says Nigel Nelson

Sir Keir Starmer and Emmanuel Macron

Sir Keir Starmer met Emmanuel Macron in France earlier this week

Nigel Nelson

By Nigel Nelson

Published: 21/09/2023

- 11:21

'Starmer may have been a Remainer, but he knows that horse has bolted, the bolt has been shot, bolting us back onto Europe is no longer an option'

Let‘s get one thing straight. If Keir Starmer becomes prime minister he is not going to reverse Brexit and take Britain back into the EU.

Neither is he going to do a deal with Europe to take 100,000, 120,000 or 180,000 of their asylum seekers, or whatever the latest figure is which the Tories have plucked out of the ether.

Ever since Starmer became Labour leader in 2020 the complaint about him was that no one knew what he stood for. The advantage of this fence-sitting was not giving Tory attack dogs anything to attack.

And opinion polls consistently showed that Starmer can perch on his fence and whistle Dixie until the cows come home and still win a landslide at the General Election.

WATCH: Starmer's EU plans

But with the prospect of No10 getting closer that will no longer wash. When you’re preparing for power by gallivanting round the globe meeting world leaders such as Canada’s Justin Trudeau and France’s Emmanuel Macron, they need to hear a more substantial tune than a ditty from the southern states of America.

Which meant the Tory dogs of electoral war were off the leash. And, wow, once the XL bullies had something to sink their teeth into how grossly they misrepresented it.

Let’s take each in turn. A moment’s considered thought would be enough to show that even if Starmer wanted to take us back into the EU it is not a goer.

He may have been a Remainer, but he knows that horse has bolted, the bolt has been shot, bolting us back onto Europe is no longer an option.


Starmer has outlined his plans to renegotiate the Brexit deal


What Keir Starmer is talking about is making Brexit work better, which must surely be what every Brexiteer wants. The opportunity to do that comes up in 2025 when the UK and EU were due to review the Trade and Cooperation Agreement brokered by Boris Johnson anyway.

This was intended as a tweaking exercise to iron out some of the sillier anomalies that Brexit threw up - the kind of nonsense such as the agricultural products rule which insisted a vet had to sign off shipments of cream crackers because they have a tiny dairy content.

Starmer wants to see if this review could go further by improving the business relationship with our closest trading partner.

As ever the Tory attack lines are contradictory. They say Europe would not countenance substantive changes in which case any Brexit reversal goes out the window. It has to be one of the other.

And they seem to forget that the Northern Ireland Protocol was meant to be unchallengeable, too, yet Rishi Sunak was still able to negotiate the alternative Windsor Framework.

Then they come up with the baloney that any deal to return cross-Channel migrants to the EU would require us accepting more than 100,000 of theirs.

This figure was extrapolated from an EU Council proposal in June to distribute asylum seekers more fairly across member states based on population size.

Using this measure the Tories calculated that Britain would have to accept 12.9 per cent of the EU’s 966,000 current asylum applicants giving us 124,000 of them.

Even if this proposal is introduced it can only apply to EU states and Hungary and Poland are already kicking up a stink about it. As Britain is not in the EU, we cannot be part of such EU quotas.

And does anyone seriously think that a British prime minister, of whatever political colour, would agree to a deal to send 20,000 cross-Channel migrants to Europe in return for resettling five times more here? Even Jeremy Corbyn wouldn’t have fallen for that one.

What Starmer is saying is that any agreement on returns has to be a deal to suit both sides which means a quid pro quo. Of course he cannot put numbers on it before talks have even begun.

And it is quite likely no deal can be reached anyway. Rishi Sunak has been down that road and knocked back and Starmer could well be, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try.

Europe is too concerned about its own migrant problems to worry about ours. While the UK is dealing with 89,000 recent asylum claims Germany is wrestling with 218,000, France with 137,000 and Spain with 116,000.

There is an old political saying Keir Starmer might like to adapt for his Labour Party conference speech in Liverpool next month. It has been variously attributed to newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, American statesman Adlai Stevenson and former PM Harold Wilson.

It goes like this: “We will stop telling the truth about them if they stop telling lies about us.”

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