X Close

Keir Starmer still doesn’t get Brexit The Labour leader discusses Europe the way Clinton discussed sex

Trying to revive le concept tabou? (Credit: Kiran Ridley/Getty)

Trying to revive le concept tabou? (Credit: Kiran Ridley/Getty)


September 19, 2023   6 mins

France has been swept up in a mood of cross-Channel rapprochement. As the country hosts the Rugby World Cup, its minister of sport has shown a special solicitude towards English visitors, hoping to atone for the mistreatment of English football supporters at the 2022 Champions League final in Paris. At the England-Argentina match in Marseille, fans demonstrated their gratitude by purchasing 83,000 beers — a record, according to the Financial Times. Days later, Emmanuel Macron followed up by inviting the Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer to Paris. The two will meet at the ElysĂ©e palace today.

It should help both of them. Since Montesquieu’s time, French stereotypes have credited British statesmen with wisdom and ruthlessness in the pursuit of economic advantage. Even 49 days of Liz Truss proved inadequate to shake them. Macron would like to lay claim to these Anglo-Saxon virtues as he leads the French through painful reforms to their welfare state. Starmer, meanwhile, gets further validation as Britain’s likely next prime minister: an important statesman will have anointed him.

At a time when British voters have felt increasing remorse over Brexit, a visit to the most important head of state in the European Union also allows Starmer to remind voters of the importance of “Europe”, and of his own foresight in backing Remain. At a conference in Montreal last weekend, he told an FT interviewer that the deal Boris Johnson struck with Brussels is “far too thin”, promising to renegotiate a closer trade relationship if he becomes prime minister.

But if that is Starmer’s reckoning, it may be a misjudgment. No one would call these halcyon days for the UK economy. But the idea that the country’s business climate is now uniquely bad appears to have been built from inaccurate data, according to revisions released by the Office for National Statistics earlier this month. The economy has been growing, not shrinking. It has returned to pro-Covid levels. Today, the worst-performing economy in the developed world is not the UK but Germany, for decades the motor of EU prosperity.

Germany’s poor showing is instructive. The countries of the EU made it a priority actively to limit and complicate trade with Britain in the wake of Brexit, in order to send the message that good relations with Europe now require EU membership. But the UK is a large economy, and sending that message came at a high price for French fishermen and German car manufacturers. Then came the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and what happened to Britain in the wake of Brexit happened to Germany, as the United States pressed it to substitute more expensive American natural gas for Russian, and to “de-risk” its trade with Chinese industry. That’s the world of “free” trade: there is a price for marching to your own drummer. The UK is not the only country in the West that is operating under these new rules.

Britain has become much more insular in recent years. This does not mean it is complacent. On the contrary, it may be unduly demoralised. Misfortunes that look like glaring Tory policy failures — areas in which Starmer can make hay with almost any policy alternative — look far less bad in an international context. Britons may still be infuriated at Boris Johnson’s Covid misbehaviour. They should know, though, that from abroad, the media-driven investigations look like a hysterical overreaction. That a prime minister’s violating of a lockdown to celebrate a staffer’s birthday would rankle the public is understandable. That it would occasion the fall of a government is bizarre.

The British response to Covid was incompetent — but most people who kept abreast of continental news would have greatly preferred their local incompetence to the kind that prevailed in the EU. While people could stroll in fields and parks in the UK, Spain was a prison house. While British scientists were developing one of the world’s leading vaccines, France’s vaccine program, conferred on the Pasteur Institute, was an embarrassing washout for Macron.

Tory immigration policies look like another Brexit-era broken promise: The Government’s Illegal Migration Act, with its wacky-sounding idea of parking asylum-seekers in Rwanda rather than processing their claims, has wound up stymied in courts. The country is faced with an epidemic of “small boat” arrivals and rising migrant numbers. But Europe is faring worse. An immigration bill that Macron hoped would be the centrepiece of his government programme last spring is still stalled in the Senate.

“Europeanising” this discussion could, therefore, be a trap for Starmer. Yes, the Tories have screwed up. But the very outlandishness of the Rwanda plan sends a signal that someone in the party understands that the old paradigm has ceased to function. Starmer gives no such signals. His plans to staff up and improve claim-processing simply do not reckon with the extent to which Britain is out of room. His promises to “smash” the “criminal gangs” responsible for migration are misdirected. The public is not worried about the criminality of immigration; it is worried about the volume of immigration. The same goes for Starmer’s offer, in the spirit of “burden sharing”, to take some of the migrants now arriving on Italy’s shores. This, at a time when a half-dozen countries that are still in the EU — Denmark, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Latvia — say they want no migrants at all.

So while informally launching his election campaign with a visit to Paris appears to provide Starmer with an all-purpose policy stick for flogging the Tories, the experience of Brexit has left him with a difficult ideological hand to play. In the 2017 elections, in the wake of the Brexit referendum, Jeremy Corbyn ran what may have been the most brilliant national campaign since the Second World War. De-emphasising the opposition to Brexit that had come to dominate the Labour Party, the leftist pariah came within a whisker of toppling Theresa May and moving into No. 10. Yet two years later, Corbyn ran at the head of Labour’s worst showing since 1935.

What happened? Observers tend to focus on Dominic Cummings’s brilliance in reconfiguring Tory personnel and imparting Tory ideology, but Labour had something to do with the result, too. Basically, in the two years after Corbyn’s Brexit-neutral campaign, the party revealed itself as obsessed with getting rid of Brexit, by hook or by crook. Starmer himself was an enthusiastic supporter of a second referendum; Labour looked like a party of broken promises.

A lot of French commentary on Starmer has focused on how this ardent Remainer has made Brexit “un concept tabou”. It is not so mystifying. He is attempting to win 2017 results for Labour while running on its 2019 programme. That is why Starmer’s rhetoric on Europe has this stilted, abstract, impersonal sound. “There is no return to freedom of movement,” he has said. “We have left the EU.” Starmer discusses Europe the way Bill Clinton discussed extramarital sex during his scandal-peppered presidency — studiously avoiding discussion of what he has done and what he would do. Sex, or Europe as the case may be, just blows across the landscape in his vicinity, like a weather system.

Former chief European Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told a British audience last winter: “The EU is no longer what you left.” Barnier meant this as a boast. New bonds of mutuality tied the various countries together, above all the massive Next Generation EU borrowing programme. But a person of British sensibilities would probably think this was worse. Thus far, Next Generation EU has disbursed little money. It has mainly been a tool for disciplining refractory countries like Italy and Poland. The EU has other such tools, and it is not shy about using them. The bloc offers even less scope for sovereignty than it did in 2016.

It’s a commonplace among Brexit foes that any return to the EU would take a lot of time. For instance, Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, while believing the public has decisively repudiated Brexit, is not optimistic the country could be readmitted before 2036. A more likely Rejoin scenario would involve suddenness and an element of surprise — say, after the arrival in Westminster of an unexpectedly large anti-Brexit majority. But the plan would need to have been drawn out beforehand, and it would need a powerful European interlocutor who could ensure a positive European reception — a French president, say. And yet, as one observes the care with which Starmer is discussing these things on the eve of his first big foray into Europe, one is drawn to a surprising conclusion: Feelings about Brexit have shifted much less in the seven years since the referendum than Starmer’s more zealous supporters wish to think.

Brexit is possibly the most significant uprising in the capitalist West in the last 75 years — the reclaiming of sovereignty from a technocratic system. The people at the top of that system drew great benefits from it; their efforts to obstruct Brexit were not surprising. But the beneficiaries of the new system, whatever it is, are not people of power. They don’t think of themselves as beneficiaries of anything. Today they are grumbling. But once voters begin to focus on the concrete issues surrounding it, as they inevitably do in the course of a national election, politicians will discover that Brexit is still a dangerous issue. It may even still be a winning one.


Christopher Caldwell is a contributing editor at the Claremont Review of Books and the author, most recently, of The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties.

 


Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

98 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

Oh for goodness sake… an article about Starmer not ‘getting’ Brexit by someone who doesn’t ‘get’ Brexit either. Wonderful. Not.

“Brexit remorse.” I’ve yet to hear of anyone who voted for Brexit who actually regrets doing so – as opposed to plenty of Brexiteers who regret that our political establishment are too damned lazy and incompetent to make the most of it.

The meeting between Starmer and Macron will be an exercise in vacuity; two technocrats seeking to bolster each others ego. So France (and the rest) discovered that the UK economy is significantly stronger than their imaginations would allow? Quelle Surprise.

The writer gets one – just the one thing right. Any attempt by Starmer to backtrack on Brexit will harm him. Go for it, Sir Keir – history awaits, and a further title: Starmer the Self-Harmer.

Last edited 8 months ago by Steve Murray
Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I doubt Brexit will feature much in Starmer’s thoughts once Labour are in power – and not through choice, but because he will be overwhelmed by much bigger issues which have probably not even entered his imagination yet.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

I think you underestimate the extent to which Starmer – and the majority of our senior politicians – are committed to the globalist project above all else.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Maybe even another pandemic!

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
8 months ago

A pandemic of ‘bots, likely. We can only hope and pray it won’t be a pandemic of nanobots.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Presumably the taxpayer is funding this charade?
Or is the Labour Party funding this spectacle?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Steve, an anecdote isn’t data! Chatting to our friends, who of course tend to agree with us (or maybe even if we bang on about something too much pretend to!).

There is reams of data driven evidence that attitudes to Brexit in the UK have indeed shifted; given young people were mostly in favour of Remain this isn’t that surprising in any case, but given the incompetence and chaos we have experienced since Brexit, especially but not only in the divided Tory government, probably also a major factor.

I’m a Brexit supporter, but I’m not deluded

https://www.whatukthinks.org/eu/

Martin 0
Martin 0
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

An anecdote is most definitely data. It is of course, a skewed sample in this case.
As are all the skewed polls; who engages? who is excluded in practice and deliberately? Who bothers replying? How does it relate to other measures? What was the actual phrasing used compared to the headline?
There are petitions to re-start the EU discussions and they do not in any way even vaguely reflect these particular polls.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Andrew… your interpretation of my “i’ve yet to hear of anyone” is pretty trite, if you don’t mind my saying. I wasn’t, of course, referring to matey anecdotes, but to a thorough reading of many sources in different types of media.
You may think you’re an undeluded Brexit supporter, but you’re mistaken if you believe that results of polling (such as the one you link to) provide anything other than a reflection of the inability of the establishment to fulfil the Brexit mandate. If we were in such a position, i’ll repeat, i doubt there’s more than a very small percentage of those voting to leave the EU who’d subsequently have changed their minds following a more positive Brexit implementation.

Last edited 8 months ago by Steve Murray
Rebirth Radio
Rebirth Radio
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I was going to comment to say exactly the same – never met a single “remorseful Brexiteer” in my entire life. Everyone who voted for it is glad we did, there’s ZERO appetite to re-enter the EU.

Last edited 8 months ago by Rebirth Radio
Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

There will be no re-joining, and one reason why is that it involves having to take up the EU’s perennially sick currency.

Last edited 8 months ago by Dumetrius
Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Yes. Bregret is an entirely media-confected phenomenon.

But the danger is not that we openly rejoin but that the bureaucrats quietly develop a form of ‘alignment’ that’s actually worse than rejoining. It’s pretty clear that’s what Starmer has in mind.

Ever since Monnet the strategy of the European elite has been to get rid by stealth of the ‘anglo Saxon’ democracy imposed on them in the 1940s. For that to work they have to destroy it here as well as on the mainland. Monnet, Spaak, Delors, Barroso, Juncker … they’ve all been quite explicit about this. Unfortunately we didn’t listen then. We need to listen now.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
8 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

I have long suspected that the other countries that made up the EU were not only not democratic but anti-democratic and that the EU was an instrument for neutering democracy

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
8 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

I hope this is a nod to Starry starry night.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Michaels

Not familiar with this reference. Can you explain?

William Shaw
William Shaw
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

No regrets over Brexit.
The EU is a cancer.

Brendan Mc Sweeney
Brendan Mc Sweeney
8 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

So deep – how many years of study were required to achieve this level of profound understanding?

Charlie Two
Charlie Two
8 months ago

play the ball not the man, Brendie.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I am in the EU at the moment. While at the supermarket I told my husband that if he returned the trolley and locked it forcing the next ninny to pay €1 (as I had to) for the use thereof, I would ban him from the car. I have to say that it looks like a lot of EU expats and Brits go there, not Greeks.

Keith Merrick
Keith Merrick
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

What makes you think Christopher Caldwell doesn’t get Brexit?

Dominic English
Dominic English
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Agreed. I voted for Brexit. And would do again in a heartbeat. But it has clearly not been a ‘success’. Mainly because our foot stamping leaders are so annoyed with us for voting for it in the first place they refuse to embrace the opportunity it gives us in any meaningful way. So we shadow the EU in the expectation that we will ‘rejoin’ at some point. Here is why Brexit is like Playstation. https://open.substack.com/pub/lowstatus/p/why-brexit-is-like-playstation?r=evzeq&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
8 months ago

“The countries of the EU made it a priority actively to limit and complicate trade with Britain in the wake of Brexit, in order to send the message that good relations with Europe now require EU membership”.
Which was just about the most short-sighted approach ever and they totally shot themselves in the foot. Now everyone is scratching their heads, wondering what on earth they can offer North Macedonia, Albania and now the Ukraine that keeps them in the EU’s orbit without equalling full membership (even if those countries were all fulfilling the applicable criteria, the EU can’t take them in in an unreformed condition as it would then become completely paralysed).
There’s talk of a “Europe of different speeds” with “different layers” where countries are attached but not full members. Which contradicts the kind of rhetoric which has been going on vis-Ă -vis the UK and Switzerland the last few years. It’s just dressed up in slightly different language to mask the fact that there’s going to have to be some back-pedalling. And of course it’s much easier for the EU to do that with Starmer than with the Tories who were responsible for Brexit. It doesn’t look like such a climbdown then. And the European press are obedient enough to sell it as a softening and a climbdown by the British only – just as they did with the Windsor Framework.
This same kind of short-sightedness has been displayed over and over again – from the appointment of vdL as Commission President (nobody in Brussels seems to have really thought about how much this would damage trust in the EU among voters), to the handling of the mysterious texts between vdL and Bourla at Pfizer, to the vaccine procurement, where the EU took weeks and weeks deliberating and discussing and then were genuinely surprised to find themselves at the back of the queue at the manufacturers (doh). If the vaccine supplies for Austria (and therefore the speed at which I’d get my own jab) hadn’t been riding on that, it would have been comedy to watch.
Finally, I think people are waking up to the fact that that euphoric wave of “the UK has to be punished to stop others leaving” (which infected even the cleverest of minds of my acquaintance) was completely senseless. The EU won’t survive by frightening members to stay in it; it will survive by finding answers to the biggest questions that nation states are too small to deal with. The biggest one of those is migration and here we are, still waiting for a “European solution” after 8 YEARS. Watching vdL’s useless posturing in Lampedusa – coming out with the same old tired phrases – it’s not surprising that people are turning away from the EU and starting to think of it as a necessary evil rather than something to feel actively enthusiastic about.
Watching the EU in the last few years has told me that there is a certain “Schwarmdummheit” (“stupidity of the swarm”) going on in Brussels. I’m sure there are very clever people there, but the net result that comes out of it is not so much a lack of strategic thought, but a complete lack of common sense and self-reflection.
Which is an accurate description for Britain’s political class too, so maybe it’s horses for courses. But I still think Starmer is going to crash into a big concrete wall as far as his plans for Europe (to the extent discernible) are concerned.

Last edited 8 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Thank you so much for :-“Schwarmdummheit”!
Yet another simply wonderful word from the “master race! That I shall cherish forever.
Otherwise an excellent description of how the ‘gang’ works and always has worked, and always will work.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
8 months ago

Yes, “Schwarmdummheit” is good and definitely up there with Schadenfreude. In fact, why doesn’t Unherd change its name to Unschwarmdummheit?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
8 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Very thoughtful comments! Thank you. It ought to be clear to the EU leaders that would be far better for everyone if the UK and EU had good relations.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
8 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Our pain is certainly less than Europe’s sclerosis as the world shifts East – we at least have the freedom to make choices, even if our constipated government lacks the confidence to take them. And better stupidity of a containable swarm than the whole edifice.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
8 months ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

I’m not sure whether you have more or less pain. I think both Britain, the EU and several countries within it are severely struggling with systems/economic models that are no longer suited to the challenges of the 21st century. Ironically, you are all in the same boat.
The question is whether, on balance, it’s better to be in a clapped out Robin Reliant that’s pretty creaky but still agile…or in a tanker which tries to mow everything in its path down but can’t turn corners.
Starmer seems to be trying to combine the two and it won’t work. The EU does need to completely rethink its approach to 3rd countries in its neighbourhood (and Starmer must know that). However, at the end of the day, I think it is going to be too expensive for Brussels in terms of political capital to now try and invent that middle-way with Britain as a prototype. They’ve invested far too much time and energy in the “Britain-must-be-punished-no-cherry-picking” narrative…which went down a storm even if it was short-sighted. So this event today with Starmer and Macron is basically the political equivalent of two dogs sniffing each others’ bottoms in the park (with David Lammy looking on fondly). It probably won’t lead to any material change and Starmer will be the one to pay the price.
The UK would be best advised to stand back, continue to (try and) make a go of the deal you have…and then see what the EU has come up with when they manage to present a solution. Which – given their current speed of movement – will be in about 90 years.

Last edited 8 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Stevie K
Stevie K
8 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Magisterial madam! Your description of Macron and Starmer, with Lammy looking on was exquisite and hilarious. Please keep commenting, you bring interesting, informed and well thought through perspectives.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
8 months ago
Reply to  Stevie K

Thank you very much…I shall oblige as the mood takes me!

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
8 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I can’t really talk for Albania or Ukraine, but my wife is from (North) Macedonia and I’ve been going out there routinely for 25 years now so I can speak a bit on that.
Whilst it is true I think to say that some, small, strides have been made on the Macedonian economy, fundamentally large parts of the place border on agrarianism. I am very doubtful about what benefits the EU’s open agenda would bring. This is not a country that could run the single currency and any commitment it made would take likely decades to come good and would probably come at a significant social cost. I’d worry Macedonia would be Greece 2 given the convergence just isn’t there. There remain very substantial questions about quality of governance and state capacity. We have seen countries like Greece and Bulgaria use the EU framework for, basically, score-settling and I suspect that any new accession countries in the Balkans would do likewise. This of course leaves the ‘old EU’ importing new members’ problems into their politics.
Without wanting to be crude, to many Macedonians the ‘European Ideal’ is a legal route out to another country. It is probably true that so-called remittances can be a sugar rush for the economy, but I think the people there understand how brittle remittances can be. What is understood in Brussels as the European Ideal and Social Model is not really something that translates well to the Macedonian on the street. To be clear, I’m not saying that anyone is being unreasonable – far from it. I think that Macedonians do recognise that free movement has not been reciprocal movement.
What has happened in Macedonia, and elsewhere in the Balkans, is substantial Chinese influence, for example in infrastructure projects – roads in particular in Macedonia. I doubt that even full EU membership would shift Chinese influence and I can not understate the importance of the China angle now. Macedonia took a large number of Chinese covid vaccines for example.
I have been silent on the question of refugee flows – suffice it here to say that I went to the Idomeni camp and I can quite understand why a country like Macedonia (population officially 2.2m, real number likely a lot lower) would not want that passing through. What I will say is that refugees were something of a wake-up to Macedonians. Prior to that they thought EU-related migration was one way. They now are considerably wised up on the implications of mass population movements and how they can be a two way street. How many refugees would willingly be allocated to Macedonia is another matter.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
8 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Insightful as always.
At least Italy has most of its migrants arriving on an island. Perhaps the Italians should evacuate the unfortunate permanent residents of Lampedusa and turn it over to the migrants as a holding area cum asylum processing centre. Wouldn’t work here of course, the Isle of Wight is too populated and Lundy is too far from Dover, not to mention the Human Rights lawyers. I get the feeling the human rights lobby is on the back foot in Italy.
(Glad you got your jab. Mrs U is on her seventh.)

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
8 months ago

It might be useful if we recovered the Godwin Lands (Before China does!)

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
8 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

Well, if we manage to halt global warming, perhaps Doggerland will re-emerge from the N Sea!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago

We should send ALL of our illegal immigrants to Northern Ireland.
Given the absolute fortune we already spend on the place it is the very lease they could do to pay us back for our astonishing indulgence.
I am sure they would receive a warm reception, and if ‘they’ ran away it is not too far to the benighted Irish Republic.

ps. I note gimmie, gimmie, gimmie, from NI as usual!
But absolutely NO thought of thanks.

Last edited 8 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Rangerista
Rangerista
8 months ago

Northern Ireland has paid back sufficiently in blood during two world wars, the likes of you and the British Government, can never repay that debt.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
8 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Well said. The single word ‘Brexit’ is used by our remainiac crass MSM to describe every problem in trade with Europe. But proper journalism would say – trade problems ‘created by the EU’s petty intransigent and hostile policies’. But Brexit – ergo we – are blamed for problems that need not and should not exist if there were mature politicians in the EU.

Rhod Sutton
Rhod Sutton
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

Exactly. The EUs obstruction of the uk joining Horizon, in protest at the NI situation was contrary to what was agreed on the withdrawal agreement. The EU is a pathetic, mendacious organ.

Brendan Mc Sweeney
Brendan Mc Sweeney
8 months ago
Reply to  Rhod Sutton

It’s all their fault.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

So we should just keep blaming them and the problem will be fixed! Living in the real world is about coming to terms with the flaws of those around us, whether at an international or personal level. Endlessly telling them they are wrong and we are right is unlikely to actually move anyone forward.
.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Huh?? This is not silly piint scoring. The West learnt eons ago that free trade benefits BOTH sides. We get cheaper Audis. They get cheaper whisky. Consumers in Berlin and London have more money to spend. Protectionism is a vice. So we are wholly right to attack the EU for its negative obsteuctive petty minded punishment trade tactics for a country legitimately exiting the new post Maastricht EU Empire. And you are they are plain Schwarmdummkopfheit.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
8 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

“Watching the EU in the last few years has told me that there is a certain “Schwarmdummheit” (“stupidity of the swarm”) going on in Brussels. I’m sure there are very clever people there, but the net result that comes out of it is not so much a lack of strategic thought, but a complete lack of common sense and self-reflection.”
You may have only noticed this in the last few years, but it has been the case ever since it ceased being about free trade and became a political project to create a united states of Europe. The UK’s own Schwarmdummheit was thinking that somehow we could change the EU into something better by being a part of it. Fortunately 52% of the UK population were sensible enough to realise we would be better off without it. The remain campaign was all about all the terrible things that would happen to us if we left (most of which have not come true) and said nothing about why the EU was a good institution for its member states to be a part of (basically because it isn’t). The EU is Germany running Europe to the satisfaction of France (when France does not like what Germany has done to it, it just ignores it and does its own thing anyway and Germany turns a blind eye) any other country does not stand a chance, even one as large and powerful as UK.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

Aided by the fact that most of HM Civil Service and Parliament, including many wretched Tories are arrant Quislings.
In the the past that would have seen them eviscerated*at Tyburn, but sadly not any more.

‘(*Burning for the fairer sex.)

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago

Disembowellment, not burning.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Women were burnt under the Treason Act, for the sake of modesty no less!

Last edited 8 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
8 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

Reich 4.0

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
8 months ago

The author describes the Rwanda scheme as “whacky-sounding” then mis-represents it as “parking asylum-seekers in Rwanda rather than processing their claims”. Their claims would be processed in Rwanda. There is a Gordian Knot of legislation that hamstrings government attempts to limit irregular migration, so we may never know if its whacky or an effective deterrent.
One simple step to take is to apply the same rules to assessing asylum claims as the French. France accepts 25% of claims, whereas the UK accepts 75%. So an asylum seeker pays a large sum to the people smugglers because claiming asylum in Britain, rather than France, TRIPLES the chances of his uncheckable sob story being believed by the tribunal.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago

I think the idea is more what happens after rejection of the claim – the claimant will be able to cool his boots in Rwanda while he decides what to do – which is no bother to Britain at all. He can think about it for the next twenty years if he wants!!

If the Australian example is anything to go by, rigorous offshoring of all claimants results in anyone except the truly desperate not bothering to make the journey in the first place – thus achieving the human rights goal.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
8 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Yes, that is my undertanding as well. The idea is that the would-be boat migrant would is choosing between France and Rwanda, not France and Britain. My point about claim assessment was taking the pessimistic view that the Rwanda scheme will be indefinitely delayed, whereas adopting the same rules as the French is at least achievable. Actually, we already have the same rules about asylum its just that in the UK, but in the UK the assessment of the evidence is laxer.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago

Yes, I agree with you on the French thing. We certainly need to get better at rejecting, and probably it’d be handy to go and look to see how the French do it.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
8 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

One difference that emerged recently is that in the UK system, if an asylum applicant is found to be lying, the assessor has been told to ignore the lie. So applicants can come up with any uncheckable sob story, without having to worry about inconsistencies. The French don’t do it that way.

John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
8 months ago

I don’t regret voting for Brexit, and none of my Brexit voting acquaintances do either. One thing that the British do is get things out of perspective, and I believe that is because the country and people are so parochial. The media is UK obsessed. World news is poor in most UK media outlets. If it were not the case the British might stop believing they are uniquely badly off, and stop nonsense you see in online comments such as ‘the world thinks we are a laughing stock’ when in fact ‘the world’ is a busy place and doesn’t care much one way or the other about the UK.

AC Harper
AC Harper
8 months ago

A regular reporting in the UK of USA West Coast malaise in the big cities might be enlightening… but it would of course be ‘off-message’ to The Powers That Be.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
8 months ago

Yes, it’s ironic that those who characterised Leave supporters as inward-looking Little Englanders have so little awareness of the actual state of affairs in the EU.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago

What the UK public can’t help but notice is that things are getting worse. Perhaps not for house owning pensioners but you try getting somewhere to live on an average income, having access to decency health care, starting a family, etc. without the bank of mum and dad behind you. You’d absolutely be better off in Germany or Denmark.

Last edited 8 months ago by Martin Butler
Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Importing 7.5 million people over 25 years and keeping interest rates low for long periods had a lot to do with that.

Stephen Barnard
Stephen Barnard
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Maybe in Denmark, but in my experience of 25 years living in Germany, here not so much…

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
8 months ago

The one thing that commends this article is that it acknowledges what many Leave supporters argued was that the EU has as much to lose out economically as we do from being obstructionist, which Germany has. Sure, the Irish for example are rolling on the floor laughing because of the Irish Sea border, but what do you think keeps EU leaders up at night out of appeasing the Irish or the stagnation of the German economy? Hmmm.

Otherwise, I think Rejoin is a doomed cause. Once it becomes clear we would have to adopt the Euro (as every EU member besides Denmark is obliged to do), support will likely evaporate. Add in the possibility of eastward expansion whether into Ukraine or the Balkans, that likely won’t appeal to much of the public, most of whom are weary of large scale migration, and I can’t see people being enthusiastic.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
8 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

You could be right, but unfortunately the migration card is now extremely weak, levels of (legal) net migration now being 3 times what they were at their height under Tony Blair. And then it was at least migration from European countries with cultures closer to our own.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
8 months ago

The issue with the Channel boats is that the French have done little about their Asian ‘illegals’ in the last 20 years. Afghan youths have been camping by the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris for a good 15 years now since the Western intervention in that country.
The French authorities know they plan a Channel crossing and simply wait for the problem to transport itself to the UK. Over time, these numbers have been bumped up by Syria and of course, North Africa as a consequence Cameron, Sarkozy and Hillary’s regime change in Libya.
As for Sir Keir, he lives in the same metropolitan as the rest of the British political class. If the odd Eastern European provided a cheaper plumbing/building service then that was fine, but Brexit voters observed 2 million coming over from the thawed -post-communist East to depress local wages.

Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
8 months ago

Sir Keir will stop the boats. A free hourly Eurostar from the Gare de Nord for as many doctors and engineers as can fit on board. Britain will bask in Labour led enrichment.

AC Harper
AC Harper
8 months ago

“increasing remorse over Brexit not yet done properly
There, I’ve corrected it for you.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Unlikely to happen as we don’t have a Singapore-on- Thames culture.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Unlikely to occur, as we don’t have a Singapore-on-Thames culture, more a Royle-Family-on-Tanjong-Pagar one.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
8 months ago

Starmer doesn’t get democracy, like many other MPs. They don’t like it when a majority vote for something they do not want.

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
8 months ago

Over the 40 years in the EEC/EU, the UK was more supranational than the Pope. If you don’t believe that statement, please consult the European Communities Act, which gave EU law supremacy over UK law. As is repeated again and again in EU documents, this provision of EU legal supremacy has no basis under treaty law, including in the Lisbon Treaty. The reason why the Remain camp lost is because a very sizeable majority of the British public did not appreciate the loss of their sovereign right to say no. For 40 years, Remainers said that they were defending British national interests. They were saying porkies. Starmer wants to continue saying porkies.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
8 months ago

Whilst there were plenty of Tories who betrayed the electorate’s democratically expressed decision to leave the EU and actively worked to get the worst deal possible in the hope that the whole thing would be abandoned, Starmer was key amongst the non Tory remoaners.
Despite what he says he is still totally clueless about how to lead UK outside of the EU. As the EU’s own really significant problems with its economy and its boarders come to bite more and more it will become more and more obvious we are best out of it. Starmer will continue sucking up and try to deflect attention from his failure to lead UK into prosperous post Brexit era where we trade more with the 93% of the worlds population that is not in the EU with increased wokism.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

UK citizens are perhaps beginning to notice that a ‘prosperous UK’ certainly won’t include most of them.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago

Yes, the essence of the first part of the article seems to be that things are bad in the UK but hey they are bad elsewhere too. Fair point I suppose. But I don’t think the author confronts the contradictions of Brexit that are being revealed as time passes. On the one hand brexit was an economic project to allow the UK to play it’s full role as a global economy, unchained from the petty bureaucrats of the EU. Global Britain striking trade deal around the world. However I’m not sure this was the motive behind most so called red-wall voters who were more motived by cultural issues and particularly immigration. Take back control struck a strong chord with them. But the contradiction is starkly revealed in the simple fact that immigration is far higher now than before the vote. Add to that the small boats, which didn’t seem to be a problem before the Brexit, and it seems to many that we have anything but taken back control. (I should add that any trade deal with India will involve access to the UK by many Indian nationals.) Of course it might be argued that we can select who comes now, but to most it’s the numbers that matter. And arguments that we need more immigration for the economy cuts little ice with those who saw brexit as a stand against the cosmopolitan nowheres who make up the metropolitan elite. For them it really wasn’t about the economy. They might argue that we should fix the economy so we don’t need these immigrants. To hell with free trade! Perhaps we shouldn’t be so obsessed with economic growth. But then this is beginning to sound like the argument of a left leaning environmentalist!

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

I don’t think that anyone ever said that the people’s motivations for backing Brexit were consistent, or even aligned. The same could be said of the remain campaign which drew its support from a range of demographics from progressive idealists through to hard corporate interests. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a ‘movement’ (for want of a better term) having internal contradictions. That is what democracy and politics are for.
Indeed, the moment I knew that remain was in trouble was when a good friend of mine, an intelligent woman, said she was voting remain simply because leaving was too much like hard work. When the most passion remain can muster is, ‘we need the EU so there are migrants willing to serve my coffee at minimum wage,’ then there was always a lack of quality thought.
Brexit was always likely to be a wrenching change to the economy, I don’t think anyone ever disputed that. EU enlargement was a wrenching change. My own feeling is that what got a lot of people’s backs up about the (modern) EU was rather the constitutional deficit. That the EU had massively overstepped and that there was simply no recourse. The EU may of course be a symptom of the wider constitutional deficit inherent in intergovernmentalism and supranationalism. But at it’s most basic the UK parliament had given away powers that were not in its gift to give.
Yes, the volume of migration is indeed the problem. But having those questions resolved by a remote EU Commissioner and and EU judge with a different set of interests is just as much the matter at hand as the volume. No one ever said that powers returned to the UK from the EU would be used in the interests of a particular demographic, but at least that power would in theory be exercised closer to that demographic.
And all this is before we get to the single currency..
For decades voters in the UK have had a choice of parties who were simply zealous believers in the idea of an ‘open agenda.’ Open to flows of international capital, migration flows and the like. The unifying thread running through leave was a wish to be to some extent ‘less open. To that extent LEAVE did not deceive people, rather they represented them. Starmer of course is an open agenda man to his core, just to rejoin he has to confront and sell free movement, single currency, schengen etc and not just rely on, ‘we have to do this a EU members.’ It’s not an argument he (or, in fairness, anyone else) seems keen to be making.

Last edited 8 months ago by Sam Hill
Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago
Reply to  Sam Hill

On EU enlargement :
I think one issue was that the UK lifted its remaining restrictions on migration from the ten 2004 EU accession countries, and that they did this in 2008 just in time for the global financial crisis.
And as the UK had a currency worth on average 10% more than the Euro, and as English was the most likely second language that A10 country nationals spoke, its not surprising where those new migrants headed.
Meanwhile in 2007, Bulgaria and Romania had joined. Their nationals would be able to work in the UK from 2014.
Probably no-one was expecting the numbers, felt there had not been a chance to put any brake on the process of enlargement, that 2008 was the wrong time, and that they also had waves of Romanian and Bulgarian migration to look forward to, on 1 Jan 2014.

Last edited 8 months ago by Dumetrius
Sam Hill
Sam Hill
8 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

That’s all true I’d think, but it isn’t really the point.
The basic problem in the UK with free movement is that for many people it was not much more than the freedom to be subjected to wage arbitrage. What a lot of leave voters balked at I think was that the movement was not reciprocal in any serious way.
Think of it another way. If 3 million young unemployed or underemployed people in the deindustrialised towns of the UK had gone to the A8 and A2 countries for work, wages, welfare, housing, free healthcare etc then we’d have had a massive remain vote.
Of course the demographics of the vote showed the problem. Free movement was loved by those with money and mobility – academics, those with bubble priced property, the comfortable class – those for whom free movement was a stream of tenants for the buy-to-let and cheap childcare. For those for whom free movement was more pressure on localities then free movement wasn’t so good.
REMAIN didn’t really dispute this as such, so we got lines like, ‘migrants pay tax.’ Or, put another way – vote to get more migrants to pay tax to fund the benefits you’ll need when your job gets outsourced to Bulgaria.
Free movement is not the same as reciprocal movement – the people who seem to have trouble getting their heads around the distinction tend to be the ones who resort to screaming ‘racist.’

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Nothing wrong with that! We need a bit of variety here in Un(iversallysimilaropinions)Herd..and I think you are quite right that there has not been sufficient recognition of the stark divide between the economic focus of the remainer postBrexit rhetoric and the actual cultural and sovereignty focus of the average Brexiter. The Graudian is full of I Told You So pieces on how awful it is for exporters of silk purses these days, but there’s very little about the cultural satisfaction Brexit has given to the suppliers of sows’ ears.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 months ago

It would be funny in a tragic sort of way if we were to start negotiating to rejoin just as the French are leaving.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
8 months ago

Brexit remorse?
I just subscribed and I get this FT/Economist clap trap.
I am having buyers remorse.

Keith Payne
Keith Payne
8 months ago

Madrid may have been a prison during Covid, but away in the smaller places it was not. We live in the southern Spanish countryside and had a relatively easy Covid, plenty of off-road places to walk and we travelled into the local towns to shop without being stopped once. A few of the locals who were stopped and fined for crossing the municipal boundary but had their money paid back to them after Covid.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
8 months ago

Whoever at Unherd did the photo montage of Sir Keir superimposed on a Union flag has got the flag back-to- front.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago

Isn’t it upside down? The maritime signal for “I’m in distress”.

Last edited 8 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
8 months ago

The flag, as it appears in the photo is also lÚse-majesté, i.e. insulting the crown. Is that still a crime in the UK?
It is “upside down”, but I called it “reverse” because you don’t get the correct flag is you rotate it 180 degrees. You have to flip it over.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
8 months ago

They changed the photo! Unherd got twitchy about accusations of lÚse-majesté.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago

They use us as their free proofreaders.

I got an apocalpse changed into an apocalypse yesterday.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
8 months ago

Wearing an ensign (not the national flag) was once believed to indicate that you were in distress but that was never ‘official’ besides some ensigns are the same either way up (cf France) or indicate the normalcy of a different country (cf Poland and Indonesia). Clothing flying from what’s left of your rigging was, and still is, a better indication (cf cartoons showing a wooden raft flying “bra and Panties). If distressed on land (or lighthouse) then a passing British ship should, on seeing an inverted UK ensign, inform the nearest shore authority or (British) warship, maybe even a Royal Fleet Auxiliary, etc. Seafarers should, of course, extend that to cover most nations, worldwide.

Harry Child
Harry Child
8 months ago

No they were reflecting the person in front.

Brendan Mc Sweeney
Brendan Mc Sweeney
8 months ago

Even undergraduates are warned to compare like with like. Fails to acknowledge/recognise change of measurement methodology by ONS. Unacceptable propaganda. not a dispassionate analysis.

David Harris
David Harris
8 months ago

“Britain has become much more insular in recent years”
Evidence?

Keith Merrick
Keith Merrick
8 months ago

Terrific article. I thought Caldwell hit the nail on the head many times in a way I have rarely seen (i.e. I agreed with him). I must read more by him.

Michael W
Michael W
8 months ago

He should realise the benefits of Brexit. We have given up our rights for freedom of movement so that we can control immigration from Europe to have unlimited immigration from Africa and India. We now can negotiate trade deals that are sometimes as good as what he had before. And our government can scrap the EU’s restrictive bureaucratic regulations to implement even stricter ones of our own. Our Brexit!

Ian Cory
Ian Cory
7 months ago

“While British scientists were developing one of the world’s leading vaccines, ”
Presumably this means Astra Zenaca which was withdrawn due to concerns about its safety. It has subsequently become known as “the clot shot” as in blood clot. Has any other covid vaccine been withdrawn? It would be interesting to know what the current take up rate is for the 4th,5th, 6th,7th, 8th, covid jab and the time scales between them.
“Can you please show me what other vaccine needs repeating every 4 – 6 months, doesn’t prevent infection, and has had more Vaccine Adverse Event Reports than all other vaccines combined in the past 25 years.”
Dr Ros Jones.
https://twitter.com/MaidmentRos/status/1702806909097525369

George Venning
George Venning
8 months ago

From the vantage point of wherever, Caldwell is, Britain’s gloom might seem perplexing. After all, a statistical recalibration reveals that our economy is enjoying mid-table growth and Germany is now the statisical outlier. I’m sure that in the technocratic spreadsheet cinematic universe, this has, indeed been the source of much rejoicing.

Meanwhile, back in the universe of lived poitical experience, Britons can’t help but notice that they can’t get a doctor’s appointment, that schools are falling down, that the rivers contain even more effluent than parliament. And that’s not the case elsewhere in Europe. “Struggling” Germany’s healthcare system isn’t in permanent crisis, its public realm isn’t in ruins and its beaches aren’t covered in shit.

As to the idea that asylum policy is running up against the limits of how much immigration the country can physically, take. Just imagine not knowing that asylum is a small component of overall migration and that the Conservatives have actually increased legal migration since we left the EU. Imagine his surprise when he finds out.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago
Reply to  George Venning

Excellent post

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
8 months ago
Reply to  George Venning


and we can expect Labour to be equally incompetent when they come in. This is what 30 years of technocratic incompetence looks like, just passing the baton on.

Last edited 8 months ago by Andrew Raiment
j watson
j watson
8 months ago

Wrong title for the Article. Should have been ‘Brexiteers still don’t get Brexit’ !!
I’m sure we are far from the end of Brexiteers bemoaning it’s debacle and blaming someone else. It’s a total failure says Farage. Keep remembering that. If it’s not some Blob, it’s incompetent Tories, or..get this…the EU for being horrible to us. Jeez you couldn’t make the snow-flakiness of it up. On the latter did nobody ponder what its like to be in a 3rd party position with the EU? Did nobody see what a tough negotiator it was when we were on the inside? Was nobody warned? Was Brexit prepared for by idiots who hadn’t thought it through? Doh, maybe something in that.
Since Brexit no other Country left and more waiting to join. May be some big self-interest in the latter of course, but why would it be otherwise?
However what Brexiteers can take heart from is we aren’t going back in anytime soon – because i) Starmer is not stupid and won’t push for it even though the Polls are tilting more in it’s favour ii) EU more importantly won’t have us, at least not for a generation.
So let’s just settle down into the continuous reflection of what idiots we’ve been and ensure those who promulgated this nonsense constantly reminded of it and all they falsely promised.

Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

In 2015, the year before the Referendum, the total value of UK exports to the EU was ÂŁ223 billion. Last year it was ÂŁ340 billion.
Britain has only been in charge of its own trade policy for three and a half years. We already have trade deals with the European Union. Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Norway, etc. etc. In fact there are few countries that Britain doesn’t have an FTA with. So those who voted for Britain’s freedom from the EU have proven to be comprehensively right, while Europhiles who said no one would want to trade with Britain outside the EU have, yet again, were completely wrong.
Please tell me, then, how Brexit is a debacle when our exports to the EU have risen by 65.6% since the Referendum, and we have replicated and extended the FTAs we had as an EU member state?

Last edited 8 months ago by Marcus Leach
Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

Is that figure adjusted for inflation?
edit : it is not adjusted for inflation. The document it is from, says
“These figures are in current prices so are not adjusted for inflation. This needs to be borne in mind given current high levels of inflation. Underlying trends may also have been distorted by exports of precious metals to non-EU countries.”
So your comparison and figure on increased exports is meaningless.
In 2022, the year you take those figures from, the UK had a trade deficit of ÂŁ92 billion with the EU.

Last edited 8 months ago by Dumetrius
Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
8 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Then let’s take in to account inflation. ÂŁ223 billion in 2015 prices at today’s would be ÂŁ285 billion in 2022. That would make a real terms increase in annual UK exports to the EU of ÂŁ55 billion since the Referendum.
How could that be described as a debacle?

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

And then we need to take into account the precious metals aspect. And the ÂŁ92 billion trade imbalance remains- remembering that is the 2022 figure. I didn’t use the word debacle (and not sure what it was being used to describe), but regardless, when looking at meaningful figures in this aspect, which you furnished as an example, it doesn’t seem anything like so good as your quoted figure makes it seem.

Last edited 8 months ago by Dumetrius
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
8 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

How dare you respond to disingenuous intellectual laziness with facts. ..

Last edited 8 months ago by Ian Barton
j watson
j watson
8 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

Err, how about you tell me why Farage said it’s a total failure?
But – highest inflation in G7. Highest net migration into UK in last two decades. No ability to send back the Boats. Now increasingly aligning with EU rules, but no say in them – ‘Taking Back Control’ never more ironic. Go talk to SMEs that used to export to EU too. And then status on the World stage – diminished. It’s all pretty pathetic isn’t it.
Perhaps though more importantly it’s been a colossal distraction from all the real things we should have been focusing on. We don’t get back those 7 years.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

“I don’t think there’s ever been a time in British politics when so many people in public life spent so much time loudly declaring things they knew not to be true.”
ï»żJohn Lanchester – Brexit Blues