Sir Keir Starmer has form on Brexit. He single handedly obstructed Brexit negotiations between Labour and the Conservatives in the spring of 2019. Both Corbynites and the Mayites wanted a soft Brexit, but Starmer wanted no Brexit at all. In a particularly infamous Downing Street meeting, Starmer rejected one of May’s proposals as “a total disaster”, only to be told that the proposal was a cut and paste job of his own document.
At Labour conference later that year, Starmer was largely behind Corbyn’s announcement that he would back Remain in a second referendum, which allowed Boris Johnson to declare that Corbyn, a long-standing eurosceptic, “has been captured, has been jugulated, has been reprogrammed by his honourable friends, and been turned now into a Remainer.”
Johnson took that message of betrayal to Labour’s traditional heartlands and, well, we all know what happened next.
Now, fewer than two years on, it seems that Keir Starmer has been captured, jugulated, reprogrammed and turned into a hard Brexiteer. The new Labour leader has signalled in recent days that he will whip Labour MPs to support whatever deal Johnson’s government negotiates, meaning he will openly support a departure from the single market and customs union.
What’s changed? Electoral reality.
Starmer, unlike some of his more goggle-eyed Remainiac colleagues, can read numbers. At the end of October 2019, 38 per cent of voters, including 68 per cent of Labour voters, favoured staying in the EU. Now, it is just 25 per cent of voters and 49 per cent of Labour voters. The tide has long been shifting against Starmer’s europhile politics; he sensed that when he became leader and changed position just in time to avoid being subsumed.
So long as he can contain the die-hard Remainers in his party, Starmer’s rapid U-turn could in the long run create serious problems for Johnson’s Conservatives. According to a poll released yesterday by JL Partners, Red Wall voters who lended their votes to Johnson to get Brexit done are already returning to the Labour fold in large numbers. In 2019, the Tories led in Red Wall seats by 48 to 39 per cent. Now, Labour leads by 47 to 41 per cent.
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On a uniform swing, that means the Conservatives would lose 36 out of the 45 Red Wall seats polled.
Starmer’s not daft.