Et Tu, Labor? UK Opposition Backs Deal With Europe

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Is the fix in for Brino, as your correspondent likes to call Brexit in name only? Britons fervent for their nation’s independence from the European Union must give pause in the face of news that the Labor leader, Sir Keir Starmer, announces that his party will support a deal the Conservative government can broach with Brussels.

Why this about-face from an opposition party that went before the people thrice with emphatic denunciations of the prospect of severing political and economic ties to the EU? The three times were the 2016 EU Referendum and the general elections in 2017 and 2019. Isn’t three supposed to be the marker of a trend?

Yet, according to the London Sun, Sir Keir seems to want to put Brexit behind him and is prepared to back “almost any trade deal” Mr. Johnson might strike with the mandarins in Brussels. This seems to be despite political analysts arguing that one reason the party previously led by Jeremy Corbyn suffered staggering losses in safe, working-class districts — the fabled “Red Wall” — is that Britons had enough of MPs being ordered about by Brussels.

So the latest signals are surprising. The Conservative government itself may be backtracking on its domestic campaign commitments to “get Brexit done” and, instead, to launch at home huge EU-type government programs in areas of “internal improvements” and climate change. Yet Mr. Johnson’s focus on the foreign sphere of Brexit seemed fixed — that is, exiting the EU and regaining powers in matters of taxation and regulatory policy, migration and border control, the UK territorial fishery, and other sovereignty issues.

That was before the Conservatives, in the name of combating coronavirus, committed to extraordinary measures, curbing individual liberties and uncurbing spending to offset government orders that hobble much of British commerce.

And before the American elections. A putative Biden administration will be no friend of Brexit — or, ergo, Britain. Insiders insinuate that the EU will benefit before America’s closest ally, unless concessions are made on British intransigence on independence.

Is this why Labor’s leadership now leans toward a Brexit agreement with Brussels? Because Remainers have nothing to lose and everything to gain with a UK-EU deal? And the reverse with a “clean break” Brexit?

Certainly Laborites can balk at their leadership’s reversal. Principle has given way to populism, regardless of opinion that Brexit is a rare political feat where principle and populism agree. What, however, is the Tories’ excuse? How do they justify measures that signal a Brexit betrayal to come?

Where are Conservative MPs of the ilk who backed Disraeli’s protests of his party’s betrayal of the agricultural interests in the great battle of the 19th century? “Let us tell persons in high places,” Disraeli thundered, “that cunning is not caution, and that habitual perfidy is not high policy of State.”

Will Boris Johnson compromise on a Brino agreement? Will he bow to Biden officials and emboldened Brussels bureaucrats, and surrender vital British interests? Will he concede ground on the fishery? On a “level playing field” and on taxation and regulatory policy? On adjudication by the European Court of Justice?

A Downing Street spokesman says no. “The PM,” he assures Brexiteers, “was incredibly confident that the UK will thrive with or without a free trade agreement with the EU.” Counter this confidence, however, with remarks from European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen.

“We are not ready to put into question the integrity of our Single Market, the main safeguard for European prosperity and wealth,” she told the European Parliament, reassuring her own EU constituency. Brexiteers will bristle at Continental chutzpah. “We want to know what remedies are available in case one side will deviate in the future because trust is good,” Ms. von der Leyen added, “but law is better.”

For Tories, the part of valor is to remain true to the cause of British independence. Who, like Disraeli on the issue of fidelity to campaign pledges, will put their Government to the test of Brexit? “I am not one of the converts,” Disraeli confessed. “I am, perhaps, a member of a fallen party.”


Mr. MacLean writes the Sun’s Brexit Diary.

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