These notes on Sir Keir Starmer’s visit to Witney were prepared by John Gittings.
Keir Starmer: talk to the Witney CLP supper party, 30 Nov. 2017, Leafield. [this is a summary of what Keir said. When the words quote exactly what he said, they are placed in italics.]
“I am going to start by discussing four recent dates:
20 June 2015, the Referendum. It is important to remind ourselves of why those of us who voted to remain did so: I am an internationalist; I genuinely believe that it is better if we cooperate with our European partners, whatever the challenge is. My cross on the ballot was one from the heart. It was a gruelling, awful night — what sort of world were we entering? I was really worried about a Britain that turns in on itself. Everything is based on one thing: what sort of world do we want to live in?
It was a close vote but it did not tell us anything about our future relationship. It didn’t tell us why people voted, except that they wanted to “take back control”. We in the Remain camp had no answer to “take back control” — it was a Heineken question! But if I were a public servant with a seven year pay freeze, I would ask myself do I have control? Behind the box on the ballot paper people saw a much bigger question about the way politics is run: a failure to build a Britain which is more inclusive. If Labour cannot have a policy for the people who voted leave, we have nothing.
5 October 2016, the PM’s Conference speech. This was a defining moment. She could have said that we will now have a discussion with our EU partners; instead she delivered an extreme interpretation of what Brexit meant — she was extremely hard on the European Court of Justice. Our European partners were shocked: they were expecting a sensible conversation. This changed the mood: it was a really low moment. The 48% were written out of their own future- it was an extreme message to those who voted Remain.
8 June 2017, the General Election. She wanted a landslide, but the country said no. The country rejected the PM’s approach and we now have a shabby deal with the DUP but it transformed our [Labour’s] prospects. Jeremy ran a very good campaign. It shows we can and should win the next General Election, we are the party on the way up and they are the party on the way down.
The only sensible way is to stay in the single market [during the transition period, Keir later clarified to a questioner], and the customs union and respect the ECJ. The lack of preparation by David Davis is staggering; when we eventually got sight of the papers on the economic impact of Brexit, from the bits we were able to see the entire work done by the government was in two lever arch files.
We have turned the tables but we didn’t win: we have got to win and be in the driving seat: we must not be complacent and think we have done enough.
15 Dec. 2017. For the PM it is really serious if there is no agreement to move to Stage Two. The time will be so reduced that it makes No Deal a serious prospect, and No Deal is unthinkable. On 30 March 2019 we will be the only country in the world with no trade deals with other countries. No agreement on northern Ireland — that means a hard border; that will be catastrophic, it will be a really dangerous plan. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are fantasists: they believe you can go through the gate to Wonderland.
If we do move on [to Stage Two] then the question is: what sort of Britain do we want in fifty years time? Michel Barnier has asked: Do you basically want to be a European style country with a European-style approach? To which there is no answer from the British government. Or do you want a different Britain? The government cannot answer that because it is divided.
Our belief is that: We are a European nation and we should have a shared future with Europe. We want to keep up with European standards on labour, food, etc. based on principles of cooperation and internationalism. We must win the election, interrupt and seize the negotiations; we will go to Brussels and say we have a new set of values and a new set of goals.
[in reply to questions]
* Cross-party working: There are problems about contemplating cross-party working: we are suspicious of the PM and the role of opposition is to challenge the government at every twist and turn. The decisions that are best are the ones that are challenged.
* HoC opinion: There would be a clear majority for a more sensible policy on Brexit if the lights were turned off in the House of Commons and there was just a show of hands.
* Referendum result: We have to accept the result of the referendum: it was not ever presented as just a giant opinion poll. The political price for walking away from the decision would be very harsh. It would show that we don’t care for the people who have felt neglected for years and voted the other way. We have to walk towards the challenge. We do respect the referendum result but we see a different future.
* Immigration: We have ducked the question for a long time — we need to have the discussion and we need a sensible policy. Refugees — no question about them; Students — should be welcomed and not classed as immigrants; Family members — this issue can be worked out; Those who come to work — Freedom of movement has let us dodge some important questions. We have avoided the question of lack of skills for 20 years, because freedom of movement filled the gap.
We now need a 20 year project to change our schools. Immigration policy should be based upon principles and not on numbers. On freedom of movement, we need a conversation with our European partners: rules need to change and I am up for a grown-up discussion about them.
*Ireland: We need to be a bit louder about staying in the customs union; if we were negotiating this we would want to explore how to stay inside it.
* Trump: We should not be pandering to him: we should be campaigning for him not to come.
* Party leadership. We developed our Brexit policy over the summer, and Jeremy completely agrees with the policy I am putting forward. We need to do it as one team — if the Labour Party breaks on Brexit that is no solution. It is not easy but we are up for it.
* Single market: We want the benefits of the single market but we can’t have the same thing, and we would need to negotiate that, and that is achievable. We need a model that works for us.
* Dialogue: We are talking to our European partners all the time, pretty much non-stop. We must genuinely understand what goes on, on the other side of the table, and we must be ready to take it on after the [next] General Election.