Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
22 November 2022

Return of Brexit talks gives Labour an opening

The party can’t alienate Leave voters, but it can attack the government for its deal harming the economy.

By Freddie Hayward

The Prime Minister has denied reports that the government is exploring a “Swiss-style” arrangement with the EU.

That’s no surprise. The Swiss arrangement comprises 120 bilateral agreements. Switzerland gives money to the EU. The EU doesn’t like the Swiss arrangement and probably wouldn’t want to replicate it.

Rishi Sunak also doesn’t have the political capital to secure a deal before the next general election. The divisions in his party are bad enough without throwing Brexit back into the mix. Indeed, the government would need to resolve negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol before agreeing any deal.

The atmosphere around those negotiations has improved since Sunak became Prime Minister. The minister responsible for the negotiations, James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, has told a select committee that he wants to reach an agreement with the EU. Likewise the EU’s negotiator, Maroš Šefčovič, has welcomed the resumption of talks for the first time since February. But as one EU source put it to me, “the concern is that we have been here before”.

Any immediate change in the UK’s relationship with the EU is therefore unlikely. However, what is important is that closer ties with the EU are being discussed. Part of the reason for that is that the economic damage of Brexit is becoming more visible at a time when people are getting poorer. For instance, the Office for Budget Responsibility’s economic report released with the Autumn Statement on 17 November said that trade intensity had fallen by 15 per cent. The opportunities to criticise Brexit have grown.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

This provides an opening for Labour. They don’t want to condemn Brexit because that would alienate Brexit voters. But it would help to blame the government for the financial pain people are experiencing. Hence Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, told Bloomberg last week: “The Brexit deal the government secured has cost our economy dearly.”

Content from our partners
Why public health policy needs to refocus
The five key tech areas for the public sector in 2023
You wouldn’t give your house keys to anyone, so why do that with your computers?

Labour is also going for the government over immigration. Keir Starmer will tell the Confederation of British Industry today that under a Labour government the days of “low pay and cheap labour” would end. He wants to increase training for domestic workers instead. It’s not yet clear whether Labour’s plans would reduce immigration. For now, however, Labour is attacking the government both for the economic pain of Brexit and its failure to manage immigration. That’s a much more aggressive strategy than merely criticising the government over the technicalities of the Northern Ireland Protocol, and links directly to the issues that motivated people to vote for Brexit in the first place. It could well prove fruitful.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

[See also: Labour must make sure no one forgets the Tories’ Brexit disaster]