How Labour turned Boris Johnson's own Brexit weapons against him

To quote Back to the Future’s Marty McFly, Labour’s new Brexit position “is an oldie where I come from”.

Writing in the Brexiteer’s paper of choice, the Sunday Telegraph, Sir Keir Starmer today called on Boris Johnson to stop squabbling and do a deal with the EU.

Sound familiar?

The shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh went further, telling Sky News the UK will be “stepping out on to the world stage… as global Britain” when Brexit is complete.

Do not adjust your set; that is a former Jeremy Corbyn frontbencher singing along with a classic of the Brexiteer genre.

In fact, Labour has made a wholesale raid of the Tory armoury deployed against their party at the last election, and turned that fire back on the government.

Boris Johnson is now being subjected to the same “dither and delay” attack line he repeatedly pelted at Jeremy Corbyn last year.

The prime minister was not helped by a week of rehashed arguments over the Irish border, infighting over the rule of law and that heaviest of heavy Brexit hits – the Tory rebel amendment.

Shadow NI Secretary Louise Haigh

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No surprise that the Tories have today issued a rebuttal accusing the Labour leader of saying “anything to score political points” after years of trying to overturn the 2016 referendum.

But this move is as much about shoring up Labour’s own support as it is attacking the government.

Once a vocal supporter of a second referendum, Sir Keir Starmer knows the Brexit weather has shifted with even the Liberal Democrat’s now saying they will not push to re-join the EU.

Brendan Chilton, general secretary of the pro-Brexit Labour Leave group, welcomed the pivot saying it was clearly designed to “win back Brexit voters in the seats lost in the red wall”.

“It summarises what most people want… let’s not re-open old wounds as the bigger challenge here is COVID-19 and the economic fallout”, he said.

Robert Buckland still

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But while a shift to a more pro-Brexit position may appeal to older voters in traditional Labour areas, it also risks alienating younger pro-EU supporters.

Former Labour minister Lord Adonis said “it is a great mistake to endorse Brexit. It is turning into a bigger and bigger disaster, undermining people’s living standards and the rule of law, and Labour should have nothing to do with it”.

It’s something that could also feed into a wider battle brewing within the party, with former Corbyn supporters increasingly agitated about what they see as establishment attempts to silence those on the left.

In reality, a pandemic sucking up everyone’s energy and attention and a nation tiring of Brexit drama makes this move as pragmatic as it is political.

To misquote another Marty McFly one-liner, you may not be ready for a pro-Brexit Labour party, but your parents are gonna love it.

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