Keir Starmer humiliated by Brussels over plan to renegotiate Brexit
Keir Starmer humiliated by Brussels over ‘betrayal’ plan to renegotiate Brexit deal as the EU warns Labour leader ahead of meeting with France’s Macron that it won’t budge unless Britain rejoins the customs union
- Starmer said he wanted to secure ‘much better’ arrangements with the EU
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was given a cold dose of reality by Brussels today over his plan to renegotiate Brexit, as he prepares to meet French president Emmanuel Macron.
The Opposition leader at the weekend pledged to get ‘a much better deal’ for the UK if he becomes prime minister, with the trade agreement signed by Boris Johnson facing its first five-yearly review in 2025.
The comments made to the Financial Times have been labelled a ‘betrayal’ by Sir Keir’s UK-based critics. But the EU has also dumped a swimming pool of cold water on his plans.
As he prepares to meet Mr Macron in Paris at the end of a whirlwind international tour, sources warned the Labour leader than unless he is willing to bring the UK back into the EU customs union it will made no meaningful concessions.
Sir Keir, who campaigned for a second referendum and supported the return of free movement, has previously told Brexit voters he would not seek ‘major changes’ to the deal struck by Mr Johnson.
Sir Keir arrives at the Gare du Nord in Paris with Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves and Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy
Ahead of talks with French president Emmanuel Macron tomorrow, the Labour leader said he wanted to secure ‘much better’ arrangements with the EU
‘Unless Starmer is prepared to take a quantum leap and change Labour’s position on membership of the customs union then any renegotiation will really be not much more than a housekeeping exercise,’ one EU source told the Times.
Downing Street ruled out a renegotiation, saying Rishi Sunak was focusing on ‘maximising opportunities’ outside the EU.
Ahead of talks with French president Emmanuel Macron this morning, the Labour leader said he did not want to reverse the referendum result and was focused on trying to ‘make it work’.
But Tories warned Sir Keir could take Britain ‘back to square one’ while Brussels observers said a closer deal would be possible only by signing up to EU laws.
It comes as the UK in a Changing Europe (UKICE) research group publishes a new report that finds using the existing Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) to reduce trade barriers will be ‘very challenging’.
UKICE said the onus will be on Britain to give the EU an incentive to shift its position, given the bloc is ‘relatively happy’ with the existing partnership.
Closer alignment on veterinary standards in order to ease trade, which Labour has cited as a priority, is highlighted in its report as one of the potential changes which would benefit the UK.
But it adds that any new negotiations would potentially be lengthy and complex, and that time-consuming domestic issues like the economy and the NHS are likely to leave ‘limited bandwidth’ for a major reassessment.
Experts also warn that a review could even ‘inflame tensions’ over implementation issues and that the EU is likely to prefer a lighter, technical re-evaluation.
Anand Menon, director of UKICE, said: ‘Keir Starmer’s desire to secure a ”much better” Brexit deal for the UK is all well and good.
‘However, he failed to explain how tinkering with the Trade and Cooperation Agreement will make a meaningful economic difference. Moreover, he runs the risk of demanding more than the European Union is willing to give.
‘The UK is not a priority for the EU, which remains relatively happy with the TCA. The key for a Labour government will be figuring out a way to provide the EU with an incentive to restart negotiations over Brexit.’
Keir Starmer posted a glossy video showing him meeting and greeting left-wing politicians including Justin Trudeau (right) at a summit in Montreal over the weekend
David Jones, a Conservative former minister, said Labour’s leader appeared to be intent on ‘unpicking Brexit’.
He added: ‘He is clearly cosying up to the EU and to Macron, who is the most Europhile member of a Europhile bunch, and who would not be seeing him unless he thinks he can get something out of Labour to his advantage.
‘My big concern with Starmer is that he is preparing the ground to sign us up to perpetual alignment with EU standards.
‘We would become a rule-taker and lose the freedom to strike better trade deals around the world.
‘There is no doubt that free movement would also have to come back on to the table before the EU would consider a new deal. I’m surprised even Starmer thinks it’s a good idea.’
Craig Mackinlay, a Conservative member of the Commons European scrutiny committee, warned that Sir Keir would ‘betray’ Brexit if he won power.
‘This is the same Keir Starmer who called for a second referendum,’ he said.
‘He is someone who wants Britain to be in the EU. If he gets into No 10 then he will betray the ideals and advantages of Brexit. We will end up with more alignment with the EU, but no say over the rules – it would be the worst of both worlds.’
A Conservative Party spokesman said: ‘Seven years on from the referendum, Keir Starmer wants to take Britain back to square one on Brexit, reopening the arguments of the past all over again.
READ MORE: Tory fury over Keir Starmer push to unwind Brexit by rewriting EU deal in 2025 – as Labour leader posts ‘PM-in-waiting’ video of himself cuddling up to left-wing leaders in Montreal
‘Keir Starmer backed Remain, then wanted a second Brexit referendum, yet now he says he accepts it.’
Sir Keir arrived in Paris last night with Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves ahead of talks at the Elysee Palace with President Macron.
Labour sources were tight-lipped about the agenda for today’s talks. But Sir Keir is expected to discuss both his hopes for fresh Brexit arrangements and his plan to create a new immigration framework with Brussels.
Last week he faced a backlash after suggesting he was willing to discuss accepting thousands of asylum seekers from the EU as a ‘quid pro quo’ for a deal that would allow the UK to return some Channel migrants to Europe.
Yesterday Sir Keir insisted Labour would not rejoin the single market or customs union but said the UK could get a ‘much better’ deal. ‘I do think we can have a closer trading relationship as well,’ he said. ‘That’s subject to further discussion.’
Sir Keir said he owed it to his children, aged 12 and 15, to get a better deal. ‘I’m not going to let them grow up in a world where all I’ve got to say to them about their future is, it’s going to be worse than it might otherwise have been,’ he said.
‘Almost everyone recognises the deal Johnson struck is not a good deal – it’s far too thin. As we go into 2025 we will attempt to get a much better deal for the UK.’
Downing Street said that Mr Sunak would not reopen the trade and co-operation agreement brokered with Brussels in ‘any way, shape or form’.
A statutory review of the deal is due in 2025, but government sources said this would be focused on technical issues.
The PM’s spokesman said: ‘We’re not looking to relitigate the past or reopen it in any way, shape or form. Obviously there is a set statutory review period but beyond that we’re very much focused on maximising the opportunities it presents for the public.’
Brussels expert Wolfgang Munchau said Sir Keir’s plan was ‘based on a delusion of a similar kind, that it is possible to stay outside the single market and the customs union, and get a better deal’.
Sir Keir did a panel event with Jonas Gahr Støre (left) at the summit in Montreal
He added: ‘This is a political lie.’ Mr Munchau, director of the Eurointelligence website, said Sir Keir’s ‘repeated assertion that there is a better deal with the EU out there… is simply not true’.
He added: ‘If the EU plays hardball, as it surely will, pressure will grow from inside the Labour Party for another referendum.’
Mike Gapes, a former Labour chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, welcomed Sir Keir’s push for closer ties.
But he warned the UK would not be able to have its cake and eat it – and said Labour would have to make major concessions to secure a closer deal. ‘Now comes the hard bit,’ he said. ‘The EU is treaty- and rules-based. So drop the cakeism. The UK will not be able to cherry pick our relationship.’
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