The United Kingdom faces a future of stagnation and decline unless its political leaders start to confront the challenges posed by Brexit, according to the author of a new book. What Went Wrong with Brexit and What to Do About It, Peter Foster tells today’s Irish Times Inside Politics podcast that, while polls show a majority of British voters now think it was a mistake to leave the European Union, it is unlikely any UK government in the foreseeable future will seek to rejoin. What is needed instead, the Financial Times journalist says, is greater honesty on the subject from political leaders, in particular from Keir Starmer’s Labour party, which currently looks set to win next year’s general election. This week Starmer has been meeting with European leaders to discuss how to improve relationships between the UK and the EU.
“It would be a mistake to view the UK’s departure from the EU as a one-off shock. “ Foster tells presenter Hugh Linehan. “One of the misunderstandings about Brexit is that it’s a finite event and we’ll all get used to it and move on, But it’s going to get worse. if you look at the surveys, you’ll see businesses saying they’re continuing to struggle with the frictions thrown up by Brexit. What I try to explain in the book is that it was always going to be difficult to make Brexit work, certainly from an economic point of view.
“There are no magic bullets here,” says Foster “But what I argue for in the book is a process of confronting Brexit and what it means for our economy, our society and our place in the European Union. Even it if doesn’t mean rejoining , and I don’t think we will rejoin, the process of honestly confronting where it leaves us will in its own way be a healing process. The danger is that by not talking about it all you’re doing is leaving it to fester.”
Foster acknowledges Starmer is highly sensitive to opinion in the “red wall” Brexit-voting constituencies in the midlands and north of England which deserted Labour for the Conservatives in 2019. He acknowledges the risk for Starmer in advocating a closer relationship with the EU, but says it has to be done to prepare voters for what lies ahead. And he believes the Labour leader will need to signal that his party is ready to open a discussion, about a fundamentally different relationship with the European Union.
“If he does that he’ll be the first prime minister to advocate moving closer to Europe for decades,” says Foster.” Maybe [Labour} think they can do it under the table but they won’t have a great democratic mandate to do it unless they make clear in their manifesto what they’re planning to do. They’ll also have to bat away an awful lot of political rhetoric on the right about selling out the country, turning the UK into Brussels’s poodle, etc. One of the dangers for the UK is that a first-term Starmer government loses its nerve, doesn’t do what needs to be done to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit and the relationships continue to atrophy.”
What Went Wrong With Brexit and What To Do About It is published by Canongate