Keir Starmer Brexit CRISIS: Labour leader facing backlash as silence sparks huge tension

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The Labour leader has maintained radio silence on the issue since the UK left the European Union at the end of the transition period on December 31, instead concentrating to challenge the Government on its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. When Mr Johnson announced his post-Brexit trade deal with the EU on Christmas Eve, Sir Keir admitted Labour would accept the agreement to avoid the possibility of a no-deal outcome. But he maintained the Prime Minister’s deal with Brussels was flawed and Labour would do everything possible to expose its shortcomings.

Sir Keir said: “We will hold you to account for it. Every second you are in power. For the promises you have made. And the promises you break.”

But just weeks on, the silence on Brexit from Sir Keir, who campaigned for a second referendum, is starting to catch up with him, with Labour members and activists now piling the pressure on him to hold Mr Johnson to account over the trade deal’s shortcomings.

Several members of the Labour parliamentary party have expressed their concerns to the leadership about Sir Keir’s silence on Brexit since the start of the year, according to The Guardian.

Richard Corbett, a former Labour leader in the European parliament and ex-member of the Shadow Cabinet, has urged Sir Keir to start exposing the prime minister’s “incompetence and malevolence”.

He told The Observer: “The idea that the Brexit issue is done and dusted is for the birds.

“First, because Johnson’s deal is full of gaps that still need to be negotiated including on services and on fisheries.

“Second, because where it has settled issues, it has done so badly, as shown by the crescendo of complaints from companies and others including musicians and students.

“And third because the government seems intent on seeking conflict with the EU, from threatening to tear up the agreement on Northern Ireland to departing from the level playing field commitments.

“Just as with Covid, Labour must highlight Johnson’s incompetence and malevolence, and point to how the damage can be rectified.”

Labour MP for Exeter and former party Cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw has defended Sir Keir instead focusing mainly on criticisms of the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

But he warned: “However, with the mounting evidence of basic flaws and problems in Boris Johnson’s deal it is not going to be sustainable not to talk about Brexit for very much longer.

“Otherwise, what is the point of being the opposition?”

Labour MPs have said if Sir Keir starts to criticise the deal that implemented Brexit, it is clear he is worried about the party losing the backing of more traditional supporters who voted for the UK to leave the EU, according to The Guardian.

During the general election in December 2019, Labour lost several seats to the Tories behind its usually reliable so-called red wall in the Midlands and north of England, and Sir Keir knows he must win those back to have any chance of ousting the Tories from power.

Michael Chessum, national organiser for the left-wing Labour grouping, Another Europe is Possible, said: “Again and again, Starmer seems to be going back on his promises.

“He won the Labour leadership on a cast-iron promise to defend freedom of movement, but last month he announced on live national television that this was no longer his policy.

“He has carefully manufactured an image as a principled internationalist – and yet he whipped for the government’s dreadful Brexit deal in December.

“And when he voted for that deal, he did so promising to hold the government to account on it for every second it was in power, but there isn’t much evidence of that.”

A spokesman for Sir Keir said: “This government ignored British business during negotiations, gave them a matter of days to prepare for the deal and is now downplaying the challenges exporters are facing.

“The Conservatives have wrapped businesses in red tape and higher costs and put contracts and jobs at risk.

“Labour will challenge them every step of the way on the implementation of the deal in order to get the best result for the British economy.”

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