· “We have a duty to make [Brexit] work”, Sir Keir Starmer tells Peter Kellner in private meeting with business leaders last night
· “But we need to spell out the future, beyond Brexit, if we are to regain power”
Sir Keir Starmer MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, last night addressed a private meeting of Labour Business, a business membership group affiliated to but independent of the Labour Party, in an interview with pollster and former YouGov chairman, Peter Kellner. The event was an invitation only gathering hosted by Brand Finance, the independent brand valuation consultancy, based in the City of London.
According to Labour Business Chairman, Hamish Sandison:
“We’ve been committed to holding constructive conversations with the business community since Labour Business was set up by Harold Wilson in 1972. But of all the conversations with business we’ve ever had, this is the most serious and the most important – for business and for the country.”
David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, commented:
“It’s a privilege to host speakers from across the political spectrum in the heart of the City of London at our members’ club Brand Exchange. The business community must be at the centre of the Brexit debate and we hope that more leaders will follow in Sir Keir’s footsteps as we work towards shedding light on Britain’s future.”
In a wide-ranging interview by Peter Kellner, Sir Keir answered questions posed by Mr Kellner and by business leaders attending the session.
Mr Kellner began by asking: “Will things get worse or can we make it work?” Sir Keir replied: “Yes, things will get worse in the short term, as impact reports show. But I don’t want to tell my kids that it’s all downhill from here. We have a duty to make [Brexit] work.”
Asked what Labour would do if presented with a final deal that didn’t meet all of their 6 tests, Sir Keir was unequivocal: “We will vote against it.”
“Our 6 tests are intended to maintain economically close ties with the EU,” he went on, “but end the political union.”
Asked what would happen if the final deal was rejected, Sir Keir argued that: “It is Parliament that should decide what happens next, it should have the power to decide the options, and this might involve a general election or a ‘People’s Vote’.”
But Sir Keir went on to say: “It is the Government’s unrealistic red lines that have let to this situation where we are no closer to understanding our future relationship with the EU than we were two years after the Referendum.” But he expressed confidence that: “As Theresa May continues to cross her own red lines – on the transition arrangements, on the divorce bill and eventually on a customs deal – there will be a majority in Parliament that will ensure that a bad deal or a no deal does not become a reality.”
Asked if a second Referendum on the final deal was an option, Sir Keir replied: “We’re not calling for it. We respect the result of the first Referendum. But we’re not ruling out a second Referendum.”
Looking to the future
The immediate future, Sir Keir predicted, will be “a week of leaks” as the warring factions of the Cabinet allow their differences to continue to spill out into the public arena. “So far,” he added, “the tensions between opposing Tory ideologies - stay close to the EU or move as far away from the EU as possible - have not been resolved. It remains to be seen whether they will be resolved.”
“In the coming months,” Sir Keir said, “October looks to be the most critical pivot on the kind of deal that we might end up voting on.”
Asked how Labour was going to win the next election, Sir Keir argued: “We need to understand why people voted Leave and Remain. Leavers voted to reject a political system that had failed them – low wages, fractured work, changed communities, politicians they didn’t trust. The Referendum morphed into ‘are the current arrangements working for you?’”
“We need to answer that question,” Sir Keir said. “Labour has to set out a positive, transformative, manifesto if it is to command the trust and support of a bitterly divided nation”.
“We win,” he added, “when we glimpse the future.”