Keir Starmer’s assertion that he intends to make Brexit work is little more than a reassuring waffle. Being uncontroversial, it will not divide the Labor Party base.
This implies that he thinks Brexit is over and no further work is needed. But although we have left the EU, there is still a long way to go to harness the potential of Brexit to boost Britain’s economic performance.
Boris Johnson knew it even though Keir Starmer didn’t. It seems like an eternity now, but when Boris was elected with a massive mandate less than three years ago, his first task was to leave the EU while successfully negotiating a free trade agreement to avoid a rupture detrimental to the economy. Almost all commentators said that would be impossible without staying in the single market. This would have been unacceptable as it would have meant Britain adhering to all accompanying EU rules and regulations.
Despite enormous odds, despite opponents – almost as many within the Conservative Party as Starmer’s Labor Party – the impossible was achieved.
But that was only the first step in the Brexit process.
The next step was to take full advantage of the newfound independence from Britain. But the Covid pandemic, the resulting confinement and a stint in intensive care have diverted the course of the former prime minister and his government, which has been preoccupied with more immediate crises.
Now, just three weeks into her stint at No 10, Liz Truss and her team have taken over the baton left by Boris Johnson.
When a Downing Street TV reporter shouted last week: ‘Singapore-on-Thames planning, Prime Minister? he wasn’t entirely wrong. When they left the much larger Federation of Malaysia, Singapore knew that to succeed as an island nation, it would have to take decisive action. A bonfire of regulations and other changes made Singapore the success it is today.
Of course, it is fashionable in Labor circles to make fun of Singapore. Yet in 2020, Bloomberg ranked Singapore first in the world for healthcare efficiency. And the same goes for education, which is near the top of all international comparisons. Ninety-seven percent of all students in Singapore continue their studies after 18 years.
While a Western European nation like the UK would not want to go down exactly the same path as Singapore, simply doing nothing would spoil the legacy of Brexit.
But Keir Starmer’s refusal to make Brexit changes would do just that. Whether or not he thinks more needs to be done to take full advantage of the freedoms won by Brexit is irrelevant. He knows that any attempt to change the rules in the UK would cause schisms among the base of the Labor Party, most of whom oppose everything Brexit stands for.
So while Liz Truss is now vigorously pursuing an economic policy that would eliminate most EU regulations by introducing sunset clauses forcing departments to actively advocate to keep them in law, Labor would most likely keep them all. Deregulation is anathema to most Labor backbenchers and the majority of the shadow cabinet. Starmer’s hands are tied, even though he wanted to make incremental changes.
Cutting business taxes, cutting non-wage labor costs and encouraging high earners to come to the UK are also not on the agenda of any Labor government.
Of course, companies always invest in the UK in preference to the EU for our language, work ethic and ease of communication. But to take full advantage of Brexit, the government must provide a boost that a Labor administration is unable to provide.
Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget was a step in the right direction, despite the ensuing market instability. If this improves and the pound rises, Labor’s opinion poll lead will soon evaporate. Keir Starmer is not Tony Blair and this is not 1997.
Red Wall voters want red meat, and that means taking full advantage of Brexit. Whether Starmer likes it or not, the 2024 general election will be fought over Brexit.
Labor Brexit cakewalking is unsustainable. It will be torn under the control of the general elections. Starmer’s call for social democracy is totally incompatible with a deregulated, low-tax economy that the Conservatives are finally putting in place. The electorate will see through Starmer’s balancing act.