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14 December 2016

On Brexit, Keir Starmer is copying Theresa May’s lines

Labour hope that by matching May's impossible promise, they can reap the dividend when the PM is unable to deliver. 

By Stephen Bush

What’s Labour’s response to the Brexit vote? That’s the question that Keir Starmer, the party’s shadow Brexit secretary, was attempting to answer yesterday at Bloomberg.

The party’s plan? To secure “tariff-free access” to the single market while giving Britain “reasonable” controls over immigration.

I know what you’re thinking: isn’t that Theresa May’s plan? To which the answer is: yes, it is the government’s plan, at least as far as the public debate is concerned, to secure the benefits of single market membership without having to be subject to free movement.

In terms of where the public is and the forces behind the referendum “you can cut immigration, and someone else will pay for it” is certainly where the voters are, whether they backed Remain or Leave.

But the EU27 – who will meet tomorrow evening to finalise their Brexit negotiation team – are, at least at present, firmly united on maintaining the integrity of the single market. (Bad news for anyone hoping they’d be able to pay for EU citizenship – Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Parliament’s negotiator, and the man who proposed the measure, looks unlikely to make the starting XI for the EU27’s Brexit team.)

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Although much could change in the next two years – there’s an outside chance that the EU will disintegrate, making the question of the best Brexit deal somewhat redundant – the most likely situation for Britain is that it faces an EU determined to prevent political contagion by showing that you can’t get a better deal outside the EU.

The PM’s “We’ll have the best Brexit ever” message certainly works as far as her internal party management is concerned, and if she can pull it off she’ll accrue the benefits in the country. But it’s a tricky needle to thread and she is storing herself up a world of trouble if her deal falls short of the public’s expectations.

Labour’s hope is that by matching the Tory offer of “having your cake and eating it”, they will be the natural inheritors should May fall short.

But it also means that while the negotiations are a ongoing issue, by-election setbacks like the party saw in Richmond and Sleaford will become a normal state of affairs.

If Brexit is wrapped up by the time of the next election, however, the line that Labour would have made a better fist of the Brexit talks than the Tories might have some potency. But if the party should find itself fighting an election before Brexit is done and dusted, their new line still looks horribly a strategy that will please nobody.


300,000 people faced travel disruption as a result of strikes by Aslef on Southern Rail services and there is more to come today and tomorrow. Conservative MPs want to restrict the right of transport workers to strike to tackle the problem. “Unions face tough new curbs on rail strikes” is the Times’ splash. But the Mirror has another idea on how to bring the dispute to an end: “Renationalise the railways now!” screams their frontpage. 


The House of Lords’ Brexit committee will warn that the government’s priority next year must be to secure an interim deal, or UK-domiciled banks will begin to relocate their operations en masse, the Guardian reveals. “Banks ‘need urgent deal’ on EU to save jobs” is their splash. 


Derek Mackay’s first budget as Finance Secretary leaves him with a tricky intray, Mure Dickie explains over at the FT. Devolution of further powers means that there will be a big focus on revenue-raising for the first time. That the SNP no longer has a majority at Holyrood also means he will need to win over other parties to pass the budget. On the right, the Conservatives will oppose any attempt to tax Scots higher than the English, while Labour and the Greens will seek to secure tax rises and greater investment in public services. 


The Public Accounts Committee has attacked officials at the Department for International Development for approving a £285m airport at St Helena, where high winds prevent commercial planes from landing. 


The New York Times reveals the extent of the Russian cyberattacks on the Democrats in the presidential election. Although the interference is highly unlikely to sway the mind of the Electoral College’s electors, it could imperil the chances that Donald Trump will be able to secure congressional approval for his pro-Russia Secretary of State nomination, Rex Tillerson. 


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is out in cinemas tomorrow – read Ryan’s (largely spoiler-free) review here


This year’s NS Christmas charity is Lumos. JK Rowling, its founder and the author of the Harry Potter books, talks about its work with Eddie Redmayne here. If you can, please donate here.


Jeremy Corbyn may be unassailable, but he is not leading says Rafael Behr (Guardian)

Danny Finkelstein says that Twitter must do more to cleanse itself of hate speech (Times)

I voted against intervention in Syria in 2013 – but now we must act, says Caroline Lucas

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ excellent long read on the Obama presidency and its end

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