Sir Keir Starmer and the Labour front bench are increasingly candid about their plans to ‘recalibrate’ Britain’s relationship with the EU within 18 months of entering Downing Street. Trade barriers with the EU would be lowered, regular EU-UK summits would be held at permanent official and ministerial level, a return to the Dublin Agreement on migration would be negotiated. They would also sign a UK-EU security pact.
The Labour leader insists he is not promising to return the UK to the single market or the customs union. But the fear is that a novice, naïve and inexperienced Labour government would be putty in the hands of Euro-maximalist leaders of the calibre of Emmanuel Macron, seconded by the dour, grinding, legalistic and battle-hardened negotiators in the Brussels bureaucracy.
Moreover, a minority Labour government propped up by the Europhile Lib-Dems would be a godsend to Brussels. One has to ask what the EU will demand in any renegotiation?
Far from rejecting renegotiation of the Brexit deal, Brussels – while feigning refusal – will welcome it for two reasons. Firstly, the new Labour government would be the ones coming begging bowl in hand. Secondly, the present deal brokered in 2020 excludes a vital coveted area for Brussels: a defence and security pact with what is arguably Europe’s most forceful defence power, as evidenced by the UK’s leading political and military support for Ukraine.
But in their enthusiasm for a new deal, Labour will soon discover the hard reality that Macron and Brussels have their own plans for the UK. Given the bitterness of the Brexit negotiations and the Anglo-scepticism of the Brussels bureaucracy, EU demands will be robust and hardline. Indeed some aspects of their vision are hidden in plain sight and are already being implemented by Rishi Sunak’s government, a gift to Labour in legitimising their own plans.
The overarching framework for what the EU considers a renewed relationship with the United Kingdom is the European Political Community (EPC). The