I want to be in the EU, but I tend to think Keir Starmer is right that there is no way to do it (for the foreseeable future) and that therefore it is a pointless fight – especially as waging that fight is playing right into the hands of the Tories.

First published: February 2022.

Here is my reasoning – bear with me.

First, domestic politics

The Tories are desperate to get Labour to re-fight Brexit wars, because it fires up the Tory base, but requires absolutely nothing from Tory MPs. No policy, no money, nothing. It is a lose-lose for Labour to get involved.

Keir Starmer also says, “We have left the EU”. He is right. No point arguing about it: we have, in every single sense, left the EU. I can’t see anything controversial about stating that as a fact. So let’s not get bogged down in a row about it.

“There is no case for rejoining.” I think he is answering a “domestic politics” necessity here. There clearly IS a case, but it is not one that is worth making at all for the next few years. And making it now would be counterproductive and harmful.

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Here is my thinking:

Joining the EU is a long process

It would take years, and the EU wouldn’t consider us right now – they would want to see a pretty solid, reliable 20% majority for joining, and that doesn’t exist. Re-fighting 2016 now will just entrench positions, not move them.

And (it seems sick to say this, but it is inevitable) the people who voted for Brexit will be dead soon. The only demographic with a majority for Brexit was the 65-85. In 10 years’ time, half of them will be gone. Until then, there is a huge Tory voter base that still wants Brexit.

So, given that we have definitely left the EU and we still need to function, “Make Brexit Work” is the only way forward. We HAVE to do something to make ourselves viable in a world where Brexit is real.

In my opinion, that means slowly joining the EU Single Market again.

The reason I say “slowly” is that the Tories are in power and won’t join the Single Market. Labour can’t push for the Single Market until they are in office because pushing before then helps Tory electoral chances. And once in office, Labour will inherit all the harm Tories will have left.

PM Boris Johnson in Munich. | Flickr/Number 10 - Andrew Parsons

We will have a mountain of repairs to do

The NHS, the climate, education, international, democratic norms, policing, housing... all of these will demand huge government time and effort. Brexit is important, but it cannot be at the expense of everything else.

Change will be slow.

We will need to work overtime to align ourselves with the Single Market, and then pass legislation, get an agreement with the EU... and then, finally, apply to join the Single Market. But that is years of effort – unless a massive crisis rapidly shifts opinion or makes it unavoidably urgent.

Once we are in the Single Market, it becomes possible to make the case for joining the EU. It would go like this: “We joined the Single Market and it fixed our trade problems, but we still have no vote over Single Market rules. So let’s try to get that vote again.”

But that’s another decade of fighting. At least.

And of course, all of this assumes that the EU even wants us. Would you? If you were the EU looking at UK politics, would you consider it – knowing that the batsh*t Tories could return to office and spasmodically flamethrower the country again? I wouldn’t!

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We have a long road ahead

So I completely understand why Remainers like me are pissed off to hear Keir Starmer say, “There is no case for rejoining the EU.” But the reality of the situation – as per this piece – is that there isn’t a case.

It is not “makeable” right now. And it probably won’t be for a decade.

Fighting that battle now is an unwinnable war over an unachievable outcome, which risks handing another general election to the Tories. And apart from all the other damage they can do, five more years of Tories set back even starting a move to rejoin the EU another five years.

That is the reality.

Keir Starmer. | Instagram/UK Labour

Politics is the art of the possible, and Starmer is a realist. You might not agree, and that is fine, but let’s try not to get into a shouting match about it.

Internecine wars on the progressive left help nobody except the regressive right.

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