United Kingdom: The Labor opposition promises a vague Brexit review questioned by experts | International

United Kingdom: The Labor opposition promises a vague Brexit review
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The leader of the British Labor Party, Keir Starmer, has begun to publicly outline his plans to try to correct, if he takes office, the economic disaster caused by the United Kingdom's departure from the EU. This Tuesday he meets, behind closed doors and without a joint press conference - to avoid diplomatic friction with Rishi Sunak's Government - with the President of France, Emmanuel Macron.

The polls have been tenacious in recent months and give Labor a hypothetical electoral victory, after more than 13 years in opposition. Its leader, Keir Starmer, has been determined to prevent, during the long year ahead until a general election, the toxic legacy of Brexit from poisoning its path to Downing Street. He is aware of the general disappointment in the country, seven years after that EU divorce referendum. According to the latest YouGov survey, last July, 55% of Britons would vote today to remain in the community club, compared to a scant 31% who would continue to support leaving. But Starmer also knows that any attempt to revive that national debate, which pitted families against each other and left citizens exhausted and bitter, would backfire.

A vague and unambitious solution

For all these cautions and fears, the solution chosen by the Labor leader has been technical, vague and unambitious. It clings to article 776 of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), the treaty that involved years of hard and complex negotiations between London and Brussels, to avoid a sudden break, and which came into force in January 2021. The TCA states: “The parties will jointly review the implementation of this Agreement and supplementary agreements, as well as any related matter, five years after the entry into force of this Agreement, and every five years [a partir de esa primera revisión]”.

Labor has found in this clause, vague and susceptible to many interpretations, the tool to support its promise to fix a calamitous Brexit, without the need to talk again about reintegration into the internal market or the common customs area, much less about a new referendum. “Virtually everyone admits that the agreement that [Boris] Johnson managed to close is not a good deal. “He is very weak,” Starmer said last week in an interview with the newspaper. Financial Times with which he wanted to begin to explain his proposal. “I have a 15-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. I am not going to allow them to grow up in a world in which I can only tell them that their future is going to be worse than it could have been,” the politician lamented.

The possibility of recovering some freedom of movement for young people, curtailed by Brexit, is part of that unambitious package of proposals that Labor would like to include in a future review of the TCA. Along with her, Starmer's team includes new agreements regarding veterinary control regulations; mutual recognition of conformity assessment of certain products or professional qualifications; greater flexibility in allowing short-term work trips; new partnerships with EU-driven programmes; equivalence agreements in financial services and even a new security pact.

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The analyst and director of EuroIntelligenceWolfgang Münchau, wrote this Monday: “Keir Starmer's attempt to rewrite the relationship [entre el Reino Unido y la UE] It is based on a delusion, according to which it is possible to remain outside the internal market and the customs union and still achieve a better agreement.”

Labor intends to ignore the limited appetite that exists today in Brussels to reopen negotiations that consumed enormous efforts and resources of the community institutions, in addition to leaving a bitter taste in relations between the United Kingdom and the EU. If the British opposition finally took over the Government within a year, it would also be a long time before Starmer decided to address this issue. By then there would be a new European Commission, with different priorities and concerns. Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands face their own problems, with weak economies, Münchau maintains, and do not have time to dedicate to the new aspirations of a country, the United Kingdom, that is already out of the club.

The paths of a new Brexit

The UK in a Changin Europe organization (The United Kingdom in a Changing Europe), a think tank funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, presented this Tuesday a realistic report on the possibilities for review and improvement contained in the ATT, and on the approach that Labor have put on the table. “The type of deals the Labor Party pursues often involve long, technical negotiations that take years to conclude. They will require significant administrative resources, and continued alignment with community regulations over which the United Kingdom will have no say. In turn, the EU will need to be able to trust that future British governments, which may be more eurosceptic [que el hipotético Ejecutivo de Starmer]sustain the new agreements,” the report concludes.

The organization exposes the three avenues that, according to its own analysts, could be opened in a future review of the TCA. A minimalist model, which would be limited to examining whether the agreement and its procedures are working properly (that is, today, the aspiration of the EU); another moderate, who aspired to exploit the possibilities contained in the agreement; and a maximalist model, which expanded the field of collaboration between the EU and the United Kingdom. UK in a Changing Europe warns the parties in his report of the need, whatever the path chosen, to begin preparing for the negotiations.

However, Starmer himself admits that the efforts carried out by Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to improve relations with the EU have borne fruit. The so-called Windsor Framework Agreement, signed by Sunak and the president of the European Commission, Ursula von Der Leyen, last February, put an end to the long dispute regarding the fit of Northern Ireland in the post-Brexit era. And this same September, the British Government announced its reintegration into the EU's Horizon scientific program, one of the most regretted losses as a result of the friction between London and Brussels.

Starmer begins to hear, from the conservative ranks, accusations of wanting to reverse Brexit and for the United Kingdom to return to those years of division and confrontation. In the coming months he must demonstrate to what extent he is willing to make this issue the center of the political debate in an intensely electoral year.

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