Repeatedly, Boris Johnson shows he is unfit to be our Prime Minister. Whether in deeds or words, his antics embarrass not just the Conservative party, but the entire country. A leader who publicly compares the plight of the Ukrainian people standing up to a dictator to those who voted to leave the EU not only shows a lack of diplomatic or historical intelligence. He also offers little of value to our neighbouring nations coordinating a response to Putin’s aggression.
Compare Johnson’s folly and foolishness with the principled positions taken by Keir Starmer in the spirit of national unity since his election. Little wonder he is now welcomed in capitals around the world as someone with whom others can do business. Such an approach is only the start of repairing and renewing Britain at home and abroad. Never more has it mattered that there is not just an opposition to this Government but a clear, serious and articulate alternative – which is why the Labour movement for Europe is calling for all those who recognise the power of internationalism as a force for good in an uncertain world to join us as we work to achieve this.
Focusing on if rejoining the EU is possible at this time blunts our ability to make the case for what else could be achieved – not least because it is unclear why any of our European partners would expend the energy and effort required to negotiate after their experience of Brexit. Until the UK appears serious about being a partner – whether for diplomacy, trade or environmental protection – we cannot expect our future to be a priority for the EU.
Such a state of affairs is unlikely to change under this current Conservative administration which seems to actively provoke disagreement and discord with our European neighbours in the hope this will shore up faltering poll numbers at home.
This doesn’t mean we should ever be reticent about why the cooperation and collaboration with the EU enables matters. Whether on conflict on our continent, our core rights at work or the fight for equality, the EU has proved time and time again a powerful force for good. With its formal protections lost to the UK since Brexit, the case for strengthening the relationship between us to ensure scrutiny of the impact of proposals from the Conservatives – or, in the case of employment legislation, the lack of them – gets more powerful everyday.
As we deal with the aftermath of leaving the EU, Labour cannot sit silent on the sidelines waiting out the debate as to what should or could happen next. Not only will that leave Johnson’s buffoonery to define what Brexit is uncontested, with all the damage to our country that will entail. It also risks missing critical opportunities to show why and how a Labour government would be one with which our neighbours could work.
The Ukrainians have made no secret of their ambition to join the EU. They see it as a guarantee of their survival as a free and independent nation. This challenges the idea that the EU was simply a bulwark of bureaucrats that had had its day and should give us courage to demonstrate that world and our national security is best served when we are together with our European allies, and not on the fringes of Europe. A confident call for a close working relationship – including close trading ties and travel permits as well as security arrangements – should be our start. So too, we should not be afraid to speak out on the EU’s shortcomings and where reform must be the goal. Recent history has shown how the failure of the EU to deliver collective action on refugees is catastrophic. As Ukrainians struggle, so Afghans, Eritreans, Ethiopians and Syrians still languish in refugee camps in Greece and France or make perilous journeys on boats in the absence of a continental safe passage policy.
Labour cannot only stand up for the international conventions at home; we must also show how we would work with our neighbours to ensure every country takes its fair share of those fleeing persecution.
There is much to say – and do – in the coming months. We intend not just to hold this government to account, but work within the Labour movement to show how and why rebuilding a strong and close relationship between the UK and our European neighbours is crucial to future prosperity and equality for all. We cannot do this alone – that is why we’re asking all those who cherish these values and are unafraid to speak up for internationalism to join us. We are stronger together in Europe – and stronger in making that case together in the Labour Movement for Europe.
Sign up at www.labourmovementforeurope.uk.