Keir Starmer draws election battle line as he promises closer trading arrangements with EU

Conservative party accuses Labour leader of wanting to turn back clock on Brexit

The Conservative Party has accused Keir Starmer of wanting to bring Britain “back to square one” on Brexit, after the Labour leader said he would renegotiate the UK’s post-Brexit trading terms with the European Union if his party gains power.

Mr Starmer, who is in France on Tuesday meeting president Emmanuel Macron, said he owed it to his children to negotiate a closer trading relationship with the EU, in a departure from his past caution when it came to commenting on Brexit issues.

It is also the second time in recent days that he has emphasised a clear policy difference on European issues compared with the government, after last week announcing that a Labour government would seek a broad deal with the EU on asylum seekers.

Mr Starmer said the deal on Brexit trade arrangements struck by former prime minister Boris Johnson was “far too thin” and he would use the review of the deal that is pencilled in for 2025 to negotiate a closer arrangement.


“Almost everyone recognises the deal Johnson struck is not a good deal,” he said, in comments first reported by the Financial Times. “As we go into 2025 we will attempt to get a much better deal for the UK.”

He referred to Britain’s need for economic growth and also the future he wants for his 15-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter.

“I’m not going to let them grow up in a world where all I’ve got to say to them about their future is that it’s going to be worse than it might otherwise have been.”

A spokesman in 10 Downing Street told journalists on Monday that the government would not reopen the trade deal with Brussels “in any way shape or form”.

“We’re not looking to relitigate the past,” said a spokesman for UK prime minister Rishi Sunak.

The decision by Mr Starmer to take debate on to ground – immigration and Brexit – where he has previously avoided controversy is being viewed in Westminster as part of the drawing of clear battle lines with the Tories in advance of the general election expected next year.

On the other side of the fence, the Conservatives have in recent months been keen to open up another battle line of their own with Labour, on climate issues.

Both parties are engaged in final preparations for their setpiece annual conferences next month – the Tories in Manchester followed by Labour in Liverpool – where each leader will lay out their vision for victory in the election. In addition to the lightning rod issue of immigration, the economy and Britain’s anaemic growth is expected to be at the heart of both parties’ manifestos.

Meanwhile, in a blast from the past, former prime minister Liz Truss gave a speech at the Institute for Government in London on Monday in which she suggested that the economy would be growing much faster had her short-lived reign of last year continued.

She called for a range of tax cuts to stimulate growth, as she complained that the economic agenda had become dominated by left-wing thinking in recent years. She also lashed out at some fellow members of the Conservative party for stymieing her agenda.

“The anti-growth coalition is now a powerful force comprising the economic and political elite, corporatists, parts of the media and even a section of the Conservative parliamentary party. The policies I advocate simply aren’t fashionable on the London dinner party circuit,” said Ms Truss.