Amongst all of the Brexit hoopla, Sir Keir Starmer arrived at the University of Birmingham last week in an attempt to bring some law and order to the political chaos — is the Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union ready to be the face of a new wave of Brexit politics?

The ‘innocent’ woman formerly known as the dancing Maybot has day-by-day squeaked and clunked herself into the terrifying terminator currently threatening to tear the heart out of the United Kingdom as she seeks to satisfy the egotistical tin man that sits inside of her skull.

Listen out for the ironic jeers as she proclaims “I’ll be back” upon hopping, skipping, and jumping onto her private jet in preparation for yet another adventure to Brussels. Then listen out for even further jeers as she returns with little more than a selection of chocolates and a medium-to-large sized Tintin poster.

It’s almost dangerous to think back to a time when a ‘backstop’ was just a position in a mundane American sport, when Brexit wasn’t the biggest BAFTAs snub in living memory, and when Parliament was still a competent decision-making body.

The strength and stability of those times is almost palpable in my dreams prior to me being blindsided by interjections of dancing robots and boozy bozos named Nigel demanding we ‘take back control’ as he forms a fist in the one hand while gripping a Stella in the other.

What would Queen Vic think about all this? (Photo by Ben Thomas)

In another sequence, Queen Victoria continues to bang her head against the crumbling walls of Parliament as she desires to secure the future of her umpteen kids from the clutches of ‘Cloggy Moggy’ and his shaggy dog Boris. But as much as she huffs and she puffs she can’t blow the House down and the Commoners remain inside, stirring up their concoction of amendments and baseless bickerings.

While this is all taking place, Keir Starmer, the Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, is arriving at the University of Birmingham for a talk on the current political landscape — could his nasal musings possibly bring clarity to my perpetual nightmares?

Brexit in Brum

Last Wednesday the University of Birmingham held an audience with Sir Keir Starmer. Before anything, at least on paper, the Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union appears the perfect figure to provide order to chaos, having served as the head of the Crown Prosecution Service presumably under the title of ‘Starmer Police’*. With credentials of this magnitude a packed crowd arrived at the door of a lowly lecture theatre in the Aston Webb building anticipating his impending wisdoms.

*(yeah maybe not)

Starmer cast his first stone at the Prime Minister’s exclusive and closed botching of the Brexit process. Mrs. May supposedly drew up her red lines with just three other people in the room — two of them special advisers — indicative, for him, of an exit mission driven solely and stubbornly by Number 10 ever since the word ‘leave’.

For Starmer, this time of constitutional upheaval has developed in the fertile ground ploughed by May’s “extreme interpretation of Brexit”. This interpretation being one that is chronically ridden with impossible and contradictory promises. Guaranteeing leaving the customs union while too promising the maintenance of frictionless trade is to put it nicely a laughable miscalculation, and bluntly, horrifically idiotic. According to Starmer, any statement (such as Tuesday’s) only seeks to buy May “another chunk of road” — but where is this road heading? Well, your guess is as good as mine.

Any statement, such as Tuesday’s, only seeks to buy May another chunk of road.

Starmer depicted a leader hellbent on hurtling her Prime Ministerial hearse off of the white cliffs of Dover in spite of the directions and screeching tones of Parliament’s vast array of map books and sat navs. He articulated how “Parliament had to fight to win the right to a meaningful vote” with that unbelievably having been the institution’s “first say in the Brexit process”.

Nevertheless, in taking a leaf out of the infamous Dominic Cummings’ handbook, Parliament has attempted to ‘take back control’ in recent weeks, albeit from an enemy much closer to home — the executive. Parliament has tried to “wrestle back control from the executive” as May clambers for more and more travel time as though she were some gap year student that simply refuses to wake up to the reality that interrailing is not a sustainable way of living — both emotionally or economically — in spite of how ‘alive’ it makes you feel.

Process, process, process

Starmer further re-emphasised the crucial nature of the unglamorous “process battles” of Brexit. He acknowledged that it is in the trenches of negotiating rooms and committee discussions that ‘leave’ will be made a success or a failure — not in the ever-exploited skies of public appeal and rhetorical dogmatism.

The customs union and the subsequent determination of tariffs, for him, should lay at the centre of any future relational planning. As, quite simply, “we need laws to make it lawful to take money and pass it to the treasury”. Alarmingly, the Shadow Brexit Secretary suggested that as a nation we haven’t even started preparations on making such laws, with the supposed “cliff-edge” dive that a ‘no-deal’ Brexit would entail appearing ever-steeper upon the conclusion of Starmer’s soliloquy. He suggested in a civilly understated manner that leaving with no deal would be “highly problematic” even simply in the “small world of trade” — lest we assess its impact on security and defence.

The ever-alluring no deal Brexit cliff edge (Pixabay)

Crucially, Starmer outlined the importance of the Soft Brexit vs. Hard Brexit debate, suggesting it is a fight that Remainers must participate in. He argued that “we can’t just fight against Brexit, we must fight for our form of Brexit”, urging Remainers to rid themselves of stubbornness. In acknowledging that his ideal scenario would be to remain in the EU, Starmer maintained that it is quintessential that the Remain side not give up their right to influence the proceedings in favour of awaiting upon some dream-like Brexit U-turn.

The real referendum question

Starmer was unapologetically a Remainer, but why? The self-proclaimed ‘internationalist’ believes in working “collaboratively and cooperatively” to find answers to questions in areas such as conflict and climate change, in addition to providing opportunities unattainable for a “UK that turns in of itself”.

Interestingly, he went on to speculate as to the subtext of the EU Referendum, believing it was unequivocally a referendum on the ‘status quo’. What he called the true referendum question — “is the status quo really working for you?” — he argued was long overdue.

What he called the true referendum question — “is the status quo really working for you?” — he argued was long overdue.

Quite simply, rife inequality in education and health and significant regional disparity, confounded by a debilitating popular loss of control over political and personal decisions, had highlighted a floundering and ailing political system. These were the foundations upon which the anti-establishment and anti-continuity vote took place.

And that is where Starmer’s particular frustrations lay: that we have, despite their importance, all been sucked into discussions about process in complete ignorance to the development of a wider vision for the country — the absence of which ultimately caused the vote in the first place.

The vision, the future

So what’s the solution? Starmer is fundamentally in favour of two options: a close relationship with the EU or a public vote. This close relationship for him would be in a customs union and aligned with the single market — essential for the effective operating of business.

He is sceptical about the potential for the latter outcome, however, stating that the notion that a Labour opposition to Brexit would prevent it going through is “for the birds”. Citing the relatively uncontroversial Cooper Amendment that failed to pass, Starmer suggested that there is no evidence that Corbyn or Labour could shift the tide in Parliament towards Remain. Quite simply, “Brexit will not turn around on one good speech by someone”.

The idea that you can only speak for the 52% or the 48% is wrong

Further, he concluded, “the idea that you can only speak for the 52% or the 48% is wrong, and has only served to worsen divisions”. Rather, only through genuine connection and understanding from both sides of the arbitrary divide can we start lifting our heads up from the tip-toeing of process and onto the landscapes of “the vision”.

Fundamentally, binarism is for computers and last time I checked I wasn’t called Dell and you weren’t called Lenovo. Subsequently, then, we must stop playing Brexit ‘footsies’ with each other, and begin to engage our eyes and our brains to find long-lasting solutions to the major conundrums of our political age. The countdown is on — a compromise please, Rachel.


Featured image: Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons license

Categories: UK Politics