No, not to rejoin the EU. He suggested that in the run-up to the 2019 general election, and it earned Labour its worst result since 1935. In any case, Brussels would not allow Britain back in except on punitive terms: the euro, the borders-free Schengen Area, even higher budget contributions than before.
So, if not full membership, what? Well, details are thin, but Sir Keir wants to adopt EU ‘technical standards’ and possibly also take a share of its illegal immigrants, with the long-term goal of becoming an associate member — an idea proposed yesterday by France and Germany.
The Labour leader’s starting assumption is worth pondering, if only because it is so rarely questioned.
‘Almost everyone recognises the deal Johnson struck is not a good deal — it’s far too thin,’ Sir Keir told (who else?) the Financial Times.
Brexit, Sir Keir Starmer thinks, has been a disaster. But he has a plan to fix it. Pictured: At the Global Progress Action Summit in Montreal
Starmer suggested rejoining the EU in the run-up to the 2019 general election, and it earned Labour its worst result since 1935. Pictured: with French President Emmanuel Macron
If by ‘almost everyone’, Sir Keir means ‘almost everyone here with me at the Global Progress Action Summit in Montreal’ — a love-in for centre-Left politicians from around the world — then I’m sure he is right. We might also throw in the BBC, House of Lords, charities, universities, quangos and civil servants.
But let’s analyse what Sir Keir takes for granted, namely the notion that Britain has been stand-offish towards the EU for ideological reasons. And, while we’re about it, let’s analyse his associated belief that Brexit has hurt our economy, and that the best way to fix it is to cosy up to Brussels again.
The idea that Britain was peevishly seeking maximum divergence from Brussels goes back to the disengagement talks. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator at the time, used to brandish a chart with flags showing that, by rejecting various degrees of association with the EU, Britain was choosing a Canada-style, fat-free deal.
Oddly enough, the moment Boris Johnson took him at his word and asked for a Canada-style deal, Barnier demanded all sorts of alignment, from social policy to environmental targets. In fact, for reasons of geography and history, Britain was never going to have a trade-only relationship with the EU. There was a legitimate debate about where to draw the line between access and divergence.
The more closely we aligned our technical standards to the EU’s, the easier trade would be. But conversely, we might end up having to apply standards that didn’t suit us and that made us a less attractive trading partner to non-EU states.
I argued at the time that we should keep significant elements of the single market, thereby easing the transition and solving many of the issues that arose around the Irish border. But we instead went for more autonomy — though, having paid a high price for it in the talks, we now seem perversely reluctant to use it.
These were, as I say, legitimate arguments. What is not legitimate is to pretend we ended up with a minimalist deal. Not only does our Trade and Cooperation Agreement scrap all tariffs, it has chapters relating to aviation, social policy, criminal justice and healthcare, as well as a joint parliamentary committee (on which I happen to sit).
You would never guess it from the coverage, but this is by far the deepest and most ambitious deal the EU has signed with a country not aiming to become a full member.
But let’s analyse what Sir Keir takes for granted, namely the notion that Britain has been stand-offish towards the EU for ideological reasons. Pictured: In Paris
The Global Progress Action Summit in Montreal’ was a love-in for centre-Left politicians from around the world, Daniel Hannan says. Pictured: Starmer speaks to the BBC in Canada
Then there is Sir Keir’s assumption that Britain wounded itself economically by recovering its trade policy — that is, by leaving the EU’s customs union.
Britain has indeed wounded itself economically since Brexit, first by imposing needlessly long and harsh lockdowns, and then by refusing to let spending fall back to pre-pandemic levels.
But the pandemic hit Europe, too. To show that Britain is worse off because of Brexit, you need to compare us to the EU’s main economies: Germany, France, Italy, Spain. Until the start of this month, such a comparison did seem to show Britain lagging behind. But that was before the Office for National Statistics issued its whopping revision of our growth figures.
It turns out that our economy at the end of 2021 was not in fact 1.2 per cent smaller than it had been two years earlier; it was 0.6 per cent larger. Overnight, Britain went from EU laggard to mid-table.
Of course, some Remainers are so locked in their negativity that they will continue to cite the provisional figures rather than the actual ones. They have done so with every previous negative forecast that ended up being surpassed in real life. They start from their conclusion — Brexit Has Failed — and then cast around for ways to justify it. The successes of Brexit are left unremarked and unreported.
We had the fastest vaccine rollout in the world as a result of staying out of the EU scheme. We have joined the world’s most dynamic economies in the Pacific trading bloc, and seem set to become the first Western country to sign a trade deal with India.
We are outside the EU’s bailout funds, and can ignore 80 per cent of the directives passed since we left. We admit whom we please into our country. We make our own laws.
Of course, for some Europhiles, everything is still our fault.
For reasons of geography and history, Britain was never going to have a trade-only relationship with the EU. Pictured: Starmer, Rachel Reeves and David Lammy meet with business leaders in Paris
Starmer arrives at the Gare du Nord in Paris with Rachel Reeves and David Lammy ahead of his bilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron
When, for example, Britain took the decision to rejoin the EU’s Horizon scheme for scientific research, Labour’s response was ‘Why did it take so long?’
The party was not interested in the real answer, namely that the EU, which had agreed to go ahead with Britain as a member in 2020, went back on its word and blocked our participation for more than two years. It is simply not credible to argue that, if we are nice to the EU, it will reciprocate. Consider the existing asymmetries in our relationship. EU financial services firms here are granted equivalence, but British firms in Europe are denied it.
We have not conducted any checks on EU goods imports, though we will soon start applying some minimal ones — but the EU insists on the full panoply, not least in Ireland. We allow EU tourists to use our passport e-gates, but not the reverse.
It would be in the interests of all sides to resolve these issues, but it is the EU, not Britain, that is blocking progress. The idea that Brussels should be rewarded for its petulance — or offered more concessions to desist from doing the wrong thing — is a terrible approach to diplomacy.
What would Sir Keir put on the table? Further access to our fishing grounds? A unilateral promise to accept EU food and veterinary standards in future, however they evolve? Direct contributions to the EU budget?
I have no doubt the EU would pocket these concessions in exchange for getting Britain to do what it wants us to do anyway, namely to join various EU common policies.
Eurocrats could not believe their luck when Sir Keir spoke last week of joining the EU scheme on sharing out illegal immigrants — a scheme we were not part of even as full members, and a scheme, moreover, which several existing states say they want to leave.
What we are seeing is political posturing. Sir Keir wants to recover the Red Wall without losing his Eurozealots to the Lib Dems. To do so, he will put things on the table that Brussels likes, but stop short of full membership.
The danger is that, instead of making a hard-headed appraisal of what is in our interests, we end up getting the worst of all worlds: being run from Brussels as non-members. Eurocrats will be putting the champagne on ice.
n Lord Hannan is a former Conservative MEP and serves on the UK Board of Trade.