The emerging catastrophe of Brexit: a letter to Labour

An open letter to Annelese Dodds, MP for Oxford East and Shadow Chancellor, from Oxford For Europe

14 January 2021

Dear Anneliese,

I’m sure I’m not the only one to be disappointed in Sir Keir Starmer’s interview on Andrew Marr on Sunday. He was asked whether he would wish to make any changes to the EU trade deal, a deal he had already confirmed as being inadequate, and essentially he refused to make even the most rudimentary offer on this point. Following this, in the first PMQs after the end of the transition period, he asked not one question about the unfolding catastrophe for UK exporters and consumers. Ian Blackford very appropriately filled the gap, and showed up Labour’s dilatoriness on this topic.

Almost since the day he became leader Sir Keir seems to have forgotten his well-founded and previously often articulated concerns over the wisdom of Brexit. When he had the opportunity he declined to call for an extension to the transition period, something which current events show would have been essential to the survival of many businesses. Now he has virtually ruled out any attempt in the future to rejoin the EU, whatever the evidence. I do understand that the party would like the Conservatives to “own“ Brexit, and that they do not want to alienate the Red Wall pro-Brexit voters. The reality is that they are alienating a very large number of supporters on the pro-European side of the party, which is obviously much greater in number and influence. It is a mistake to believe that that group has nowhere else to go, they most certainly have. Furthermore, this is precisely the time when many people who voted for Brexit are starting to realise what a mistake they made and are very likely within the foreseeable future to join those of us who might wish to undo or at least attenuate it. We are screaming for the party to understand this.

Obviously your party will not go as far now as to commit to a return to the EU or even the single market or customs union – this would be premature. However it is equally a mistake to commit to not considering these options when the time is right, as we do not know what the world will look like by the time of the next election. Furthermore it would be extremely wise to look at particular aspects of the trade agreement which are causing the most serious problems and could be the subject of further negotiation. I’m thinking in particular of Erasmus, the failure to recognise professional qualifications, the absence of any deals on short-term work permits, for example for musicians, and now of course the emerging catastrophe for, of all things, the fishing industry. In addition there is the abolition of the Scrutiny Committee chaired by Hilary Benn. These are all potentially fertile ground for Labour to occupy. I think this will place the party clearly on the moral high ground – increasingly so as the evidence emerges – while the political cost of doing so would be negligible. Conversely it would not be in the party’s interests to be perceived as complicit in this disaster just at the time when its extent becomes apparent.

Please consider.

Best wishes


Peter Burke
Oxford For Europe

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