Is Labour’s dramatic shift on Brexit at the top of a slippery slope to remaining within the EU?

Stand by for a round of attacks by the Tories on Labour for their dramatic shift to a clearer Brexit policy of remaining within the single market and the customs union for a time “as short as possible, but as long as is necessary”.  But behind the sound and fury, look carefully too for signs of a split or   “nuances” within Conservative ranks.

More than ever, Brexit will either become the clear differentiator between the two main parties or create a smash in British politics with unpredictable results. The British political system is plunged deeper into its greatest turmoil since the People’s Budget and Home Rule crises from  1910, aggravated today by the fact that both party leaders are seen as transitional figures.

Labour’s shift announced today by shadow Brexit secretary Keith Starmer in the Observer has its own risk of underplaying the immigration factor said to feature strongly in some Labour heartlands.

But “as short as possible but as long as necessary” contains  its own ”constructive ambiguity.” How long is that? And then there the slippery slope argument which Remainers will seize on.

Responding to Sir Keir’s announcement, Labour peer and former minister Lord Adonis said on Twitter: “Chances of staying in the EU just rose to nearly 50%. Rejoice, rejoice!”

Starmer argues:

There is now near consensus that a transitional period is an economic and political necessity. So I want to be absolutely clear about the type of transitional deal Labour would seek to negotiate. No “constructive ambiguity”. No mixed messages. A credible solution to one of the most important issues facing Britain’s exit from the EU.

Labour would seek a transitional deal that maintains the same basic terms that we currently enjoy with the EU. That means we would seek to remain in a customs union with the EU and within the single market during this period. It means we would abide by the common rules of both.

There are a number of other significant advantages to this approach. First, it is a grown-up acknowledgement that bespoke transitional arrangements are highly unlikely to be negotiated, agreed and established in the next 18 months. Second, it provides maximum certainty for businesses and allays concerns that there will be delays or disruptions to trade when we leave the EU in March 2019. It would also ensure there will be a one-step transition to a new final relationship.

Third, it provides more time to resolve the complex question of the Northern Ireland border. Labour is clear that this extremely serious issue must not be rushed and that a considered agreement needs to be reached that prevents a hard border and has support from all communities. The government’s policy paper on this was incredibly light on detail and gave precious little reason to believe this will be resolved satisfactorily by March 2019.

Labour will be accused of undermining the government’s positions on negotiations which resume this week. The negotiations appear to be reaching a  difficult juncture already,  as British attempts to break up the  sequence of the  EU’s negotiating agenda  appear to be hitting a Brussels  brick wall. If negotiations stretch beyond 2019 in spite of all the protestations or even break down, the chances of a general election being fought in 2020 or 21 on a Brexit rethink must surely increase.

In a briefing to journalists ahead of the talks, a government official said: “Both sides must be flexible and willing to compromise when it comes to solving areas where we disagree.”

But the U.K. is showing no sign of bending to a key EU demand that it provide its own methodology for calculating Britain’s financial obligations on its departure from the EU, preferring instead to critique the calculations put forward by their negotiating partners.

EU diplomats have said Brexit talks will stall without more clarity from the Brits on the so-called Brexit bill.

Next week’s talks are being billed by the U.K. as “technical in nature,”  laying the groundwork for “more substantive discussions in September,” the briefing note from the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) said.

“This round of negotiations will focus on thrashing out the technical detail on important matters related to us leaving the EU, and will act as a stepping stone to more substantial talks in September,” it added.

It will be the penultimate round of talks before EU leaders decide in October whether “sufficient progress” has been made, and whether talks about a future trade relationship between the U.K. and the bloc can begin.


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  • NewSouthernMan

    OMG, finally some signs of common sense from the British!

  • the rich get richer

    There was one civil war in Britain .

    A Denial of Brexit might cause the next one .

    Brexit won a referendum and politicians should be wary of going against that result .

    One thing that Brexit has made abundantly clear is that you cannot be an Independent Country and in the Eu .

    You cannot have another Institution running your country when 52% of the electorate voted against that institution running your country .

  • Neiltoo

    Indeed! I can’t see how one can be a nationalist (of any persuasion) and a supporter of membership of the EU.

  • the rich get richer

    The Irish are conditioned to be under one empire or another be it the British , Catholic Church or the Eu Empire…….

    Old habits die hard………

  • hollandia

    “Is Labour’s dramatic shift on Brexit at the top of a slippery slope to remaining within the EU?”

    In short – yes. It’s increasingly apparent that Brexit (and the lies behind it) are a monumental omnishambles (I’m not sure the word I wanted to use would pass slugger censors)…

  • Mark Loughran

    At last, some common sense from Labour. It has taken a while, but Starmer is playing a long game here, which has been necessary in order to hold the Labour coalition together since the referendum. It is easy to forget how close Labour appeared to be to completely imploding on the issue. Labour has probably sensed that public sentiment is slowly but inexorably turning, caused no doubt by the overwhelming weight of evidence which has has slowly started to accumulate, and which has now reached the critical mass necessary to overcome the propaganda of the Leave campaign. Even Leave campaigners no longer claim with any conviction that the UK will be better off after Brexit, their main argument now reduced to a quaint minimalist view of how sovereignty is defined and in some strange notion that the fact that the UK will be ‘free’ makes it all worth it. Which of course is a long way from the ‘sunlit uplands’ promised during the referendum campaign by Boris, Gove and Leadsome. At the very least, all polls show that most voters do not want a ‘hard’ Brexit, or any kind of Brexit that threatens the UK economy (no one voted to make themselves poorer as Philip Hammond said). Or one that leaves the UK politically isolated from the rest of Europe given the antics of a certain TV personality wannabe dictator in the US.

    As such, with May and the Tories looking defeated and illegitimate, not to mention completely ineffective, and with UKIP pretty much reduced to a weird rabble of eccentrics with all the discipline of some ferrets in a very small sack, Labour now probably calculate that shoring up the pro-EU vote that put Corbyn within a gnat’s whisker of Downing Street is more important than placating their own working class base on the issue. It is a move not without risk, but it is one taken with the ultimate goal of winning back power and at the same time rescuing the UK from a perilous situation. In doing so, they instantly put clear water between themselves and the Tories on the issue, and give people (different people, more people) another reason to vote for them, other than Jeremy Corbyn being ant-establishment and a bit different to ordinary politicians (refreshing for some as that has been). They also place themselves in the best possible position to exploit the obvious opportunity to split the Tories over the course of the next crucial parliamentary session.

    And maybe they sense a bigger opportunity here. But let’s not get carried away.

  • Damien Mullan

    Labour have put the cat among the pigeons now. There are a handful of Labour MP’s who wholeheartedly backed Leave, while the Tories have a party split down the middle, with roughly half the party having supported either side of the referendum. The dynamics and machinations of what goes on within Parliament over Brexit, is what counts, not the fleeting and consultative impetus of the referendum, which did not ultimately translate into any major party political mandate and mooring for the Brexit ship of state. Had the Conservatives even romped a barnstorming election victory, that Tory parliamentary party could hardly claimed with the greatest of sincerity, that it was the one true shepherd and guardian of Brexit, the divisions among Tories are too great and only give lie to such a claim. There is no natural heir within Parliament that commands a sufficient majority, to guide Brexit to its fullest extent and see that extent fulfilled.

    Brexit is what it always was, a populist orphan unloved in a mature parliamentary democracy. It escaped abortion that failure at the referendum would have delivered, only now to suffer a slow and antagonizing death in the delivery theater, the result of deliberate discarded by Parliamentary physicians, moved more by the impulses that underpin the complexities of a Parliamentary democracy, than the impulses that manifest from a snapshot of public opinion from an alien plebiscitary exercise. If Brexit fails, it will have much to do with the forced marriage, that has seen the referendum result forcing the plurality of parliament into blind conformity. The cracks in conformity have now emerged and parliament is reasserting its plurality of opinion, in the best Burkean tradition.

  • Timothyhound

    The distant but distinct sound of pennies starting to drop.

  • eamoncorbett

    But you don’t mind the fact that the US dictatates your foreign policy , I understand Britain will be propping up the war effort in Afghanistan under orders from Donald. Blair did what he was told by Bush but hey that’s independence for you.

  • William Kinmont

    From what limited contacts i have had with some higher up the civil service ladders alot of bluffs are about to be called.

  • the rich get richer

    Is this some sort of unholy alliance between anti- Eu Corbynites and pro Eu Blairites…..

    What could possibly go wrong………

    Labour playing politics which is good tactics but sometimes one can be too clever for one’s own good .

  • Dan2

    Party before country, as usual, from Labour.

  • Neiltoo

    Equating a consensus in foreign policy goals with membership of the EU is bizarre!

  • Neiltoo

    Surely the problem for Labour is that their nationalisation policies would not be allowed under single market rules….. not to mention that Jeremy Corbyn’s oft stated principles are completely at odds with this reversal.

  • Stifler’s Mom

    Labour looney leftists are just trying desperately to attract votes from any angle they can think of. It worked a bit recently by the old trick of promising the gullible young ‘free everything’. Now they are trying for the brainwashed that want their country to continue to be destroyed by the EU. The brainwashed are so ‘afraid’ of running their own country that some may actually vote labour.

  • eamoncorbett

    My point being you cannot be an independent country if another country dictates your foreign policy , neither is the EU an Empire , Empires are generally tyrannical, clearly the EU is not .

  • Aodh Morrison

    Actually reports suggest that it was British intelligence sourced concerns of the Taliban reestablishing itself in areas of Afghanistan, a process that would accelerate should Trump pursue his policy of taking troops out of the country, persuaded the US Administration to consider reversing the troop withdrawal policy.

    Because this uturn flies in the face of Trump’s ‘America First’ dogma, and in order to distance himself from previous Administrations he said, “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”

    No one is going to argue that the UK is directing US foreign policy. However when both countries’ interests coalesce they will work together.

  • The worm!

    So we need to stay in the EU because Blair was a duplicitous, self-serving, so-and-so?

    Haven’t we all suffered enough because of him?

  • The worm!

    “Empires are generally tyrannical, clearly the EU is not .”


  • The worm!

    Don’t expect to get many of the regulars on here picking you up on that!

  • Neiltoo

    And who dictates British foreign policy other than the govt. of the day?

  • Scots Anorak

    Unfortunately there’s entrenched enmity towards the EU on the right of the Conservative Party because it symbolises regulation and parallels the collective bargaining of trades unions. On the other hand, it should by now have become apparent to most people that you get better outcomes if you stay within the huddle: for a start, you don’t get bullied into eating American chlorine chicken or opening the NHS to American private health firms. But Brexit was never about logic. There will now have to be another general election, but, in England at least, it’s anyone’s guess whether Labour’s new stance gains or loses it votes.

  • eamoncorbett

    Oh yeah!

  • eamoncorbett

    I was referring to Blairites within the party not so much to their mentor.

  • Partition?
    Northern England = East + Midlands + North
    Southern England = London + South

  • MainlandUlsterman

    This seems to me a dropping of the anchor for now till the next bout of weather passes. But we’re not at the port of destination. Labour needs, in time, a stronger position on where it sees Britain long term. But I think this will do for us for now – let it play out, keep the Europhile Conservatives tempted to rebel, let that seep into calculations in No10, let public opinion digest and shift expectations over a few months – see where we get to.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    thanks but unfortunately “the British” do not think as one. 65 million people and all that … we’ve had many people showing common sense all along, particularly in the much reviled political establishment.

  • Neiltoo

    It would seem that in your world view, USA = bad, British foreign policy = bad therefore USA dictates British foreign policy!
    Isn’t it possible that 2 countries could have similar foreign policy objectives without one being subservient to the other? Or is that not ‘tinfoil hat’ enough for you?

  • runnymede

    No Brian, it isn’t. Sorry for you, but there it is/

  • Kevin Breslin

    “Independent” nations don’t blame other nations for their failures and other international organisations when they cannot maintain a partnership on the grounds that one side keeps up the obligations (EU) and the other side basks in self-indulgence (UK)

    It’s nice to think you believe that Austria or Poland isn’t an independent nation and somehow believe a nation like Ukraine or Israel is instead.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The foreigners.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Workers before Fat Cats more like.

    If Brexit customs policy is unworkable in 5 years, Brexit Barons getting drunk and shouting at the Europeans not helping them make it easy isn’t going to change that.

    Transition arrangement is the only way to grown ups in the room, the alternative is a route to being a supplicant nation again.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Stupidity is being tried to the max with Brexit, about time someone tried something clever.

    Heck something feasible would be nice as oppose to the grade F idealist rubbish coming out of Whitehall.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    In the current climate, June is ancient history. People will let you U-turn on stuff they can’t remember you did, or don’t fully believe you meant. The classic example is how the Conservatives U-turned post-2008 on previous pledges to match Labour spending on schools and hospitals. The revised Tory position of blaming Labour for overspending, while barefaced hypocrisy, was accepted unquestioningly by the public and most of the commentariat, because it seemed like a genuine Tory position. It was the old position people were prepared to gloss over. So it seems Labour may be able to shift position towards policies people expect Labour to have, without taking stick for U-turning. Does that include being more Europhile than they have been over the last year? Could be.