No Deal Brexit could blow Starmer’s strategy

by Dan Cooke

Brexit is back. After months when the government’s shambolic response to Covid has monopolized political debate, the imminent expiration of the Brexit transition period on 31 December has reignited the intermittent interest of UK commentators in the nation’s future relationship with the giant trading block on our doorstep.

It took even more than this looming deadline to force Labour’s new Leader and his team to break their strategic vow of silence on anything related to Brexit. Only the furore over Johnson’s lawbreaking internal market bill forced a vocal but limited Labour response: to stress repeatedly that the government must focus on agreeing a deal; and No Deal would be a “failure “ that Johnson would have to “own”.

The first part of this assertion is self-evidently correct. No Deal would be disastrous – not just for Britain’s terms of trade, with the resultant imposition of EU tariffs on goods including cars, food and cosmetics, but also for essential co-operation on national security –  and would simultaneously create the worst possible environment in which to resolve the many vital open matters outside the scope of the current negotiations, such as seeking recognition of equivalence for Britain’s financial services sector.

Such an outcome would be, as Johnson once put it, an epic “failure of statecraft”, for which he and his advisers would be damned by history. However, if that verdict concerned them in the slightest they would have long since stopped getting out of bed in the morning. Instead, they know all too well that the Devil has all the best tunes. They most likely recognize – as Labour should too – that, in the foreseeable future, the fall-out from No Deal offers more favourable political terrain to this government – and one more challenging for the Opposition  – than any deal reasonably in prospect.

Let’s start with the alternative. Suppose a deal is announced with great fanfare in late October, in time to be ratified by year end. Johnson reprises his trick of last November, by returning from Brussels with a last minute agreement, achieved by compromising on his own red lines behind the cover of bombast and boosterism. This time around, the implicit threat of imposing a hard border in Northern Ireland through the Internal Market Bill is likely to be presented as having intimidated the EU into imagined concessions.

In the immediate aftermath, to be sure, Johnson is guaranteed favourable coverage from such a  manoeuvre: he will have “defied the odds”, and “proved the doubters wrong” – and one of those doubters, Keir Starmer,  will have no choice but to offer a guarded welcome to the news. A substantive attack on the scope of the deal by Labour is not on the cards. Labour accepts not only that Johnson had a mandate to “get Brexit done”, but that he had a mandate to do so on the hard Brexit terms outlined in the Conservative manifesto.

However, Labour doesn’t need to lead the attack in order for buyer’s remorse to set in very quickly. Firstly, we can expect rapid claims of betrayal from at least some of the hardline Brexit faction in the Tory party. The nature of the outstanding issues on Level Playing Field provisions, State Aid and fishing have been rehearsed for long-enough that any backtracking by the government to get a deal will be easy to spot. By holding back, Labour will give space for such Tory critics to dominate the stage and feed the narrative of Tory division.

More importantly, the autumn celebration of a deal will only make the new year’s shock from Britain’s status outside the Customs Union even more baffling to the public. When the inevitable lorry gridlock, IT failures and red-tape mountains rear their heads at the beginning of next year, these failures will be very hard for the government not to “own”. Blaming the EU would look like Johnson trashing his own deal. Blaming the private sector for lack of preparation will only look like sour grapes and spark retaliation by well-briefed industry leaders.

Labour’s attack lines at this stage write themselves: the government has brought its Covid incompetence to Brexit;  it failed to plan and prepare for its own preferred trade model; it failed to communicate to the public and business what to expect; it has again demonstrated that it simply can’t be trusted to deliver. For Labour, these attacks will be easy – and the signed and sealed deal will create very little pressure to offer an immediate alternative that might risk re-creating Leave-Remain dividing lines.

Now let’s return to the No Deal scenario. The customs chaos at the border will be the same, or quite possibly worse if bad will leads to stricter interpretation of rules by the EU. Added to this will be all the substantive downsides of No Deal.

But now it’s the Tory lines that write themselves. With no hesitation or deviation they will blame the EU for failing to play fair and compromise. Anyone arguing the contrary will be accused of unpatriotically “siding with Brussels”. And when Labour says Johnson should have just got a deal done as promised, the counter will be: so which compromises would YOU have made on our fish, or our regulatory independence? These are not going to be easy or comfortable arguments for Labour to handle without alienating parts of its target electoral coalition.

Of course the story doesn’t end here. No Deal is not an end state. Johnson may hope that the chaos will create opportunities to compromise later or force the EU to back down   – especially once the law-breaking provisions of the Internal Market Bill are activated, creating risks that Ireland may not be willing to take. That gamble may ultimately not play off. But in the meantime he will benefit from familiar political dividing lines, while Labour risks being pushed away from its strategy of focusing on competence rather than offering substantive alternatives.

We should be desperately hoping for a deal for the country’s sake – but for Labour’s sake too. In the meantime the party needs some “no deal planning” of its own to be ready to navigate the fall-out. Otherwise the promising recovery under Starmer could become collateral damage if Johnson banks on No Deal.

Dan Cooke is a Labour member and business lawyer

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18 Responses to “No Deal Brexit could blow Starmer’s strategy”

  1. Anne says:

    Think I followed all the what if this happens or that happens. The best situation for us all is a deal – we are fighting Covid with major economic consequences we really do not want to contemplate a no deal and actually we all would view this as another failure by this Government – what happened to the oven ready deal. We really must move on from Brexit. Get a deal and start to build a better relationship with the EU.

  2. John P Reid says:

    The culture war was the white working class saying how goo d it was that Maggie was re-elected on her third term as the labour party were the party of Bernie Grant “the police got a bloody good hiding” the Brighton bomb was justified” and Diane Abbott “all white people are racist”

    Then labour in the late 80’s the left were the “we’re the good guys on the culture was we’re against apartheid we’re against section 28, and poverty causes crime” so when David Cameron said there is such things as society and the |Tories were wrong on section 28 and Aparthied, the liberals could say we won the culture war

    Now the Culture war is the middle class Gaurdian Left saying the working class are thick N racist because of Brexit, men are women, an the Black lives matter movement Are good communists who want to defund the police

    The people who fought Section 28 and Opposed South African apartheid are saying regarding transgenders, no one asked us about adding the letter T when we fought for gay and lesbian rights, no one said defund the police or ignore anti white racism when we fought South Africa aparthied and the EU is capitalist ignore the plight of refugees system and the idea Brexit is racist is daft

    Yet the young liberal left having realised they’ve also the working class vote think they can shame the working class vote into voting labour, by screaming Transphobe, or Raacciistt!!”
    Well guess what none of those people are racist and its actually sexist to have men in womens changing rooms and its actually does more harm saying defund the police as the police stop black kids stabbing each other
    As such those things aren’t true and those who were on the left, would sooner see the tories in if the labour party is gonna be the party that hates the working class and the party that just says, that there’s phobias on LGBT to those who marched for gay rights who’re against racism who they just call bigot because they don’t know what they’re talking about or can’t get the fact there is no socialist utopia and that they’re snobs so the working class won’t vote labour anymore

  3. John P Reid says:

    Labour lost the red wall because remain as in the ballot paper in 2019 its not gonna win if back anytime soon

  4. John P Reid says:

    I thought labour might try to re connect with the working class but judging by this video, obviously not

  5. Alf says:

    Labour should be 20 pts ahead. Starmer is bloody useless. Wooden, slippery, and dull. Like a mackrel in the moonlight, he gleams and stinks at the same time.

  6. Tafia says:

    Anne, I don’t know what you read – possibly the Beano or something, but of you don’t know what the oven ready deal actually is, it’s a sad indictment of you.

    The negotiations are literally us giving the EU two options – the ‘deal’ (the so-called Canada-lite option, or ‘oven-ready’) or no deal (some times referred to as the Australian option). Our position is they are the only twochoices and we aren’t bothered which one the EU chooses. The talks have bogged down because the EU does not want either option (a position that actually ends in no deal anyway) and up until just three weeks ago were still rather moronically convinced we would extend – quite where they got that idea from Christs knows, but it shows the total failure of the EU negotiators to grasp the reality of the situation.

    Now lets test how bright you are. The reality of the situation is that we will not be asking for an extension, we will leave ion time at the end of this year, we will leave either with the oven ready deal (Canada-Lite) or we will leave with No Deal. Now, if you can understand that and accept it, you are light years in front of the EU negotiators.

    It’s the oven ready Canada Lite, or it’s no deal. We aren’t arsed which one it is and we aren’t interested in anything else and we are even allowing the EU to make the choice – but they are incapable of even doing that.

    My prediction – that I made on here three years ago, remains – we will leave with what is technically a No Deal with some minor side agreements covering the basics.

  7. John P Reid says:

    A good point was made Labours Jim Callaghan made police exempt from the 1968 race discrimination act was hostile to Barbara castles equal pay act part 1, 1970 and the trade unions didn’t like the race relations act 1976 or part 2 of the equal pay act 1975 And many northern labour MPs didn’t want to vote to decriminalise homosexuality in 1967 only the Widows of former middle class non union labour leaders Attlee and Nora Gaitskell got it through the lords in 1967, Callaghan’s lot who thought the Labour Party, belonged to them would use working men’s clubs to get their preferred union candidates from blue collar jobs selected as their favoured candidates to become MPs, So it was mainly white straight men( in fairness Barbara castle or Kate hoey didn’t believe in all women’s short lists
    But when someone says labour should try to get back working class votes, the Middle class liberal elite say Ahh by the working class you mean working class men and those men don’t care about LGBTQIA+ or BAME or migrants, As if the view of a white working class straight man, can have more in common with a person of colour with migrant parents who may be gay or lesbian or trans or other And the Labour Party doesn’t care about the views of LGbt* or people of colour or they have the wrong sort Of views And middle class liberals assume because fine if the wotking class are racist ,But recently a opinion piece survey found more white midgle and upper class people were racist than working class people, or the working class socially conservative “ Blue labour type” was sexist and didn’t believe in POC or gay/ lesbians rights because the jim Callaghan/ trade union lot of the 70’s didn’t Think this was important , but helping the white working class was important

    And this filtered down to the east of the party

    dawn priniloco MPs predecessor michael cox said the GLC of labour was obsessed with gays, Or patricia hewtt’s polling in 1987.
    The C2e skilled wotking class who bought their council Homes thought Labour obsessed with gays . Some of the working class when we fought the bnp ,went 0n anti Aparthied rallies when went to public meeting against section 28 fought for gay /lesbian rights 0n marches Got Death threats by national front Were driven off the road were on red watch website

  8. John P Reid says:

    The Hampstead and Hartlepool vote needed by labour to win use to be assumed the right of labour would br based in Hampstead And assumed the left in Hartlepool,
    As A bird has two wings to fly a left wing and a rightWing
    But Left wing And right wing don’t have liberal on the left

    Hartlepool was taken over as a working class area by the right of the party – peter Mandleson
    Hartlepool now has A 200 majority
    So ignore the working class at your peril
    Same as now, labour If you lose harold
    Hill then you’ll be a middle class seat

  9. John P Reid says:

    The whole tory strategy in 2015 was get miberal votes we’ll lose as many votes to ukip as the Tories , but we’ll lose them in the Home Counties

    Thats the culture war strategy now ( yes brexit party only stood impassively labour seats and maybe the ex labour voters who voted BXP were unlikely to go over to the Tories in most those seats ( in any real numbers) so the Tories feel they must make statements duped prying BLM/ black history month , it may lose 1% of the vote to Laurence fox, but it won’t be in marginals and get younger votes in the Shires

  10. John p Reid says:

    The second time, “the tories ” was mentioned in the first sentence should have read “labour “

  11. Anne says:

    Oh dear “Dom’ back to your nasty little self – these Tory Trolls are really desperate and extremely angry people. Why? Leave narrowly won the referendum and the Tories won the election – we were promised an ‘oven’ ready deal.’ It is us who should be angry because we are having to tolerate this terrible government – failing on every level. The Tory Party are not the party they once were with politicians such as Ken Clark and Michael Hestletine were in government – these were competent MPs. The people of this country have been hoodwinked on a massive level. If is us who should be angry. Get a grip and please try to be, at least, respectful, and mind your language – it is not a good look and brings your Party further down.
    Labour Uncut – it is time these Tory Trolls were dealt with – they should be excluded from this Labour Site. All sites should be addressing this problem of Trolls/Scammers.

  12. John P reid says:

    Imagine the oldest Baby Boomer ,Born may 45 retired age 60 with a pension in 2005 and Owns her council homes
    She starts Voting tory in the red wall in 2005 last Time labour won Was on picket lines in the 80”s, So it’s nothing new the wotking class stopped voting labour in the red wall
    But some who lost their jobs in the 80’s don’t own their homes voted tory in 2019
    And if someone grafted their life owns their home they may have been homeless in the 80‘s, Just Coz today’s kids don’t have mortgages doesn’t mean they have it harder

  13. John P Reid says:

    It was said by Denis Healey on Tony Benn, he nearly destroyed the labour party because in his arrogance to want to be working class he foresaw a utopia where he’d never had it hard and for him by taking away traditional working class community spirit ,he didn’t see the struggles of those who didn’t fit in, in working class areas and left a void for Feral anger in those areas
    Never a better fitting for Shami Chakrabarti wanting to be working class so doesn’t realise the anger by saying she’s a bigger victim than the working class on the seat she despises

  14. John P Reid says:

    Alex Sobel MP told Paul Embery to F@@k off on Twitter
    When Paul used the phrase rootless Codmopolitan to describe champagne socialists yuppyfying areas which our prices the working class do The London Working class can’t afford to live there had to move out the Area like a Moving to Dagenham from Hackney

    He said it was anti Semitic because Stalin has called Zion it once ,
    Despite no one had ever heard of it being used by him as anti Semitic phrase
    and Maurice glasman defended Paul
    He has now twice called out Paul
    Paul Embery said do you remember when labour tried to get working class votes
    So Sobel retweeted a criticism
    Saying Paul must be anti Disabled LGbTQIA+ and anti BAME and Women
    if he felt labours prioritised the working class over disadvantaged groups
    Despite Paul saying nothing of the sort as this implies BAME(whatever that is LGB alphabet Wimmin and Disabled aren’t wotking class?
    Paul Embery also called out the hypocrisy of Sainsbury sitting workers rights knowing the black lives matter( history month) bandwagon as a career move and Alex sobel compared him to Tommy Robinson called Paul a racist
    Paul’s wife is POC his best friend is a black lesbian Muslim

  15. JoHn. P Reid says:

    If labour ever wants to win again they’d need someone like Paul embery as leader snd I just don’t think the likes of Alex Sobel would ever be prepared to have a person like Paul as leader
    They’d prefer permanent opposition

  16. John P Reid says:

    Paul masons article here is everything wrong with labour-As tafia pointed out, a party doesn’t need a big membership it needs activists commencted to one thing winning,the Tory activist will concentrate in nothing but winning by fundraising and by orgainiwng to get leaflets door knocking get candidate who do case work to put the oek in marginal areas get the vote and do it too win

  17. Tafia says:

    @Anne – so not only did you not know any of that then despite six months of wall-to-wall media coverage, which has seemingly somehow passed you by, but you don’t even know the basics of where your own party stands and why.

    Pure comedy.

  18. Vern says:

    Anne – the fact is leave won. It is irrelevant by what margin. You should have moved on now or at least started listening to people.
    Your responses to these posts sound like they were lifted from the Guardian. To many of us The Guardian and all who read it’s Anti British narrative are part of the problem. Too many people are gullible enough to fall for the clap trap they peddle. I will ask you again – had Corbyn been loyal to his own principles and backed Leave, what would you have voted for and more importantly how do you think the electorate would have voted?

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