Nearly 50 groups across the country and over a thousand pro-European campaigners, including Labour supporters, have written to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urging him to moderate his hardline backing for Brexit and think again about rejoining the European Union. The campaigners are urging Starmer to stop claiming that “there is no case for rejoining the EU”. They say he should recognise the reality that Brexit isn’t working and that, in the national interest, the question of the UK’s relationship with the EU will need to be revisited sooner rather than later. Sir Keir Starmer repeated his statement that “there is no case for rejoining the EU” most recently on 6 April on a national radio station.
The letter to Starmer was organised by Grassroots for Europe (GfE), founded three years ago as a peer network for the local pro-EU civil society campaign groups which sprang up across the country around and after the 2016 referendum.
Labour should have open mind
The campaigners are challenging Starmer over his continuing claim that there is no case for rejoining the EU. They ask why Labour can’t keep a more open mind on the UK’s future direction and they’re encouraging the opposition leader to open up a national dialogue, rather than shut it down.
Proposals for a more positive relationship with Europe could be a vote winner for Labour, if argued “with clarity and conviction”, the letter says.
Grassroots for Europe adds that “there is very much a case for rejoining” – a case now made stronger by the threat of Russian aggression, the role of the EU in rallying democracies in support of Ukraine, a queue of countries eager to join the bloc and a US which increasingly sees a united Europe – not an isolationist Britain – as its main ally on the continent.
Negative effects hitting home
The national chair of GfE, John Gaskell said, “The Covid-19 pandemic masked the first effects of Brexit, and forced us to pause and scale down our campaigning. But across the country, polls show that doubts over the 2016 vote continue to grow, and many people who voted Leave have now seen that Brexit has no benefits.”
According to YouGov’s latest finding (7 April), 49 per cent of adults overall believe the UK was wrong to leave the European Union (38% right, 13% don’t know) and that view is even greater among 2019 Labour voters at 84 per cent (9% right, 6% don’t know). Overall, 56 per cent reckon Brexit has been handled badly (30% well, 13% don’t know), rising to 86 per cent among Labour supporters (8% well, 6% don’t know).
In the light of the recent poll results, John Gaskell added: “Many of our people are shocked to hear the blanket dismissal of even the possibility of rethinking Brexit. It defies common sense and risks tying Sir Keir’s own hands when a Labour government has to deal with the continuing damage of a Brexit that isn’t working. Our supporters – [who are] well-informed and motivated – might at the next general election be willing to at least lend their votes to a Labour Party that properly reflects our progressive and internationalist outlook.”
Richard Wilson, founding chair of GfE and vice-chair of the European Movement UK, added: “The majority of Sir Keir Starmer’s supporters agree that Brexit was a bad idea which has then been made worse by the way it’s being implemented by his Tory rivals…Rejoining should at least stay on the table, along with other options such as rejoining the EU’s single market and customs union.”
Lord Andrew Adonis, the Labour peer and chair of European Movement UK, commented recently: “There is obviously a case for rejoining the EU… A majority of the public already think Brexit was a mistake. It won’t be long before there is majority support for moving step by step towards rejoin.” Grassroots for Europe agree with Lord Adonis.
‘New deal’ could be vote winner
In a related initiative, academics in clinical and social sciences have published new research in an London School of Economics blog post indicating potential broad public support (including by Leave voters) for a political party offering a ‘new deal’ with Europe. The researchers, Professors Richard P. Bentall, Paul Willner and Todd K. Hartman, say: “A party which supported a new deal with Europe would likely benefit at the ballot box by support from both Leavers and Remainers.”
They present findings from a recent national survey measuring Leave and Remain identities, which also tested how acceptable participants found specific policies aimed at Britain’s future relationship with Europe. They write that the policy of remaining outside the EU but seeking closer alignment with it is not toxic for people who had identified as either Leavers or Remainers. The findings were reported by Professor Bentall to a recent public webinar hosted by Grassroots for Europe.