Keir Starmer: Brexit must deliver “exact same benefits”

Labour’s Keir Starmer has set an impossible challenge for the government. And it’s one the government only has itself to blame.

In a speech this morning, Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer laid out Labour’s six key tests for the Brexit deal. And in a move that seems to signal that Labour has finally found its backbone on Brexit, one of their key tests is whether the deal delivers the “exact same benefits” we currently have as members of the single market and customs union.

This is of course, the clear commitment that David Davis has given in the House of Commons; to deliver “…a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we [currently] have.

Keir Starmer, Labour MP and Shadow Brexit secretary

As Starmer points out, this test simply holds the government to account on a promise it made. Or specifically a promise made by Brexit secretary David Davis during a debate on Article 50 in January.

Davis was responding to a question by Tory MP Anna Soubry and said that he could not see how Britain could stay in the single market but that the government would pursue “a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have”.

Labour’s six key tests for the Brexit deal

  1. Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
  2. Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?
  3. Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?
  4. Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?
  5. Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?
  6. Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?

You can read Keir Starmer’s speech in full at

“Exact same benefits”

The government’s Brexit white paper said they wanted a deal that would ensure free trade with the EU through a “comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement” as well as trade in goods that was “as frictionless as possible”.

But Starmer’s use of Davis’ words goes further. Starmer points out that the “exact same benefits” is “an exacting standard”. It is. There’s no getting away from what it means. It demands full access of the single market meaning tariff-and-barrier-free trade as well as frictionless cross-border trade with the EU. There is no room for “frictionless as possible” or “best possible deal” here.

Of course, given the EU’s position, which has been consistent since even before the referendum, it is not possible to have the “exact same benefits” unless you accept the four freedoms including free movement of people. We’d argue that those four freedoms ARE benefits but Brexiteers will obviously disagree.

Any approach that prioritises immigration control above all else must be resisted because it will mean a weaker economy, an impoverished society and a self-defeating isolation mentality.

Keir Starmer, Labour MP and Shadow Brexit secretary

Starmer’s speech reinforces the original Labour position that immigration control should not be prioritised over the economy. However, he accepts that “exiting the EU will mean the entire immigration system needs to be reformed”. He doesn’t include a proposal for how a reformed system could look but he has raised the argument again about whether the economy or immigration control should be prioritised.

Meanwhile, the government still insists on selling the idea that we can have our cake and eat it (i.e. have a great free trade deal as well as immigration control and be out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice). It doesn’t matter that businesses across the country say that immigration is needed. Brexit ministers have also started to give the message that it will be “perfectly okay” even if “no deal” is reached. This is despite evidence to the contrary and calls for a “no deal” option to be discounted entirely because it won’t achieve tariff-free, barrier-free and frictionless trade.

The “exact same benefits” test seems to be an impossible test for the government to achieve. But perhaps the point of it is that it highlights the impossible nature of the government’s stance so far. They’re still looking to eat their cake but with T-day for Article 50 on Wednesday, they will soon have to accept that there is no cake.

Early on in his speech, Starmer said that “the debate this week moves on from the rhetoric of aspiration to the reality of negotiation”. Let’s hope that, this time, Labour turns up and does its job of being the opposition party.

Image: © Chatham House / Flickr – Creative Commons
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