Campaigners urge Starmer to moderate hardline backing for Brexit | Grassroots for Europe

Campaigners urge Starmer to moderate hardline backing for Brexit

Over a thousand pro-European campaigners from scores of groups across the country, including Labour supporters, have written to Sir Keir Starmer urging him to moderate his hardline backing for Brexit. The campaigners are urging Sir Keir to stop claiming that “there is no case for re-joining the EU”. They say he should recognise the reality that Brexit isn’t working and that, in the national interest, the question of the UK’s relationship with the European Union will need to be revisited sooner rather than later.

The letter was organised by Grassroots for Europe, founded three years ago as a peer network for the local pro-EU civil society campaign groups which sprang up across the country around and after the 2016 referendum.

The campaigners challenge Sir Keir over his continuing claim that there is no case for re-joining the EU. They ask why Labour can’t keep a more open mind on our future direction. They encourage the opposition leader to open up a national dialogue, rather than shut it down.

Proposals for a more positive relationship with Europe could be a vote winner for Labour, if argued “with clarity and conviction”, the letter says.

Grassroots for Europe (GfE) adds that “there is very much a case for re-joining” – a case now made stronger by the threat of Russian aggression, the role of the EU in rallying democracies in support of Ukraine, a queue of countries eager to join the bloc and an America which increasingly see a united Europe – not an isolationist Britain – as its main ally on the continent.

The national chair of GfE, John Gaskell said, “The Covid-19 pandemic masked the first effects of Brexit, and forced us to pause and scale down our campaigning. But across the country, polls show that doubts over the 2016 vote continue to grow, and many people who voted Leave have now seen that Brexit has no benefits. People have seen a business struggle or fail, had their future taken away, been made insecure and suffered deep personal dislocation and distress.

Many of our people are shocked to hear the blanket dismissal of even the possibility of rethinking Brexit. It defies common sense and risks tying Sir Keir’s own hands when a Labour government has to deal with the continuing damage of a Brexit that isn’t working.

Our supporters come from a well-informed and motivated part of the electorate – one that might at the next General Election be willing to at least lend their votes to a Labour Party that properly reflects our progressive and internationalist outlook.”

Richard Wilson, founding chair of GfE and chair of Leeds for Europe, added: “The majority of Sir Keir Starmer’s supporters agree that Brexit was a bad idea which has then been made worse by the way it’s being implemented by his Tory rivals. Enormous damage has been done to Britain already and – unless it is reversed – that’s only going to get worse. It looks frankly ludicrous to dismiss the option of re-joining the EU out of hand and claim there is no case for it.
Re-joining should at least stay on the table, along with other options such as re-joining the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union.”

Lord Andrew Adonis, the Labour peer and chair of European Movement UK, commented recently: “There is obviously a case for re-joining the EU… A majority of the public already think Brexit was a mistake. It won’t be long before there is majority support for moving step by step towards rejoin”. Grassroots for Europe agree with Lord Adonis.
Full text of Grassroots for Europe’s letter to Sir Keir Starmer
20 April 2022

Dear Sir Keir

We are writing to ask you to please refrain from repeatedly stating that “There is no case for re-joining the EU” as if this were an immutable fact. Most recently you made this comment in your interview with James O’Brien on LBC radio on 6 April 2022.

Instead, why not allow for the possibility that there could be such a case, even if you are currently unpersuaded? For example, you might say:

It is clear that Brexit isn’t working and that we need to find a better way forward. I am open minded about what form the future relationship between the UK and the EU might take.”


I don’t believe that the country is yet ready to address the issue of re-joining the EU.”

As Leader of the Opposition and prospective Prime Minister your words carry considerable authority with the public. Many people take their lead from you. In respect of the question of Brexit, you are in danger of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. You are stifling public debate, particularly amongst potential Labour supporters, on the extremely important question of the UK’s relationship with Europe. Why not show brave and principled leadership on this issue and do the right thing for Britain and Europe, rather than ducking the issue in the hope – misguided in our view – that it will secure you a few more votes in the so-called and largely mythical “Red Wall”.

In truth, there is very much a case for re-joining the EU, particularly at a time that the whole of Europe is under threat from authoritarian and violent regimes both outside and inside our borders. We can see that other countries are now queueing up to join the EU and it looks increasingly likely that Ukraine will be a member before very long. The USA is increasingly looking towards the EU rather than Britain as its main partner in dealing with the Ukrainian war and for its European policy more generally. Our isolation because of Brexit becomes more apparent by the day.

By all means, fight to regain “Red Wall” seats but, in doing so, please don’t irrevocably damage the future of our country. That’s Boris Johnson’s job, not yours.

Please don’t forget that in 2019 almost 54% of votes were cast for parties offering Remain or a second referendum. Not only is keeping the question of re-joining the EU the right thing to do for our country, but it can be a vote winner too if the case is made with clarity and conviction.

Yours sincerely, […]

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