In every interview I see with Sir Keir Starmer, he talks of his working-class background. About his mum, who was a nurse in the NHS, or his dad, who worked in a factory. He talks about being proud of how he was able to go to university and become a lawyer, going on to work in Northern Ireland, delivering the Good Friday Agreement. He talks of looking up to Nelson Mandela, a man who, against all the odds, tackled an unfair, broken system and racist lies in his country.
So how does he square all this with his spineless attitude to Brexit?
EU nurses have left the NHS in their droves since the referendum and they continue to do so. This has hugely contributed to the NHS, in Starmer’s words, “being on its face on the floor”. If Starmer’s mum were still a nurse, and she came home to tell him this, would he tell her: “Make Brexit work”?
It’s looking likely that car manufacturing in the UK is simply going to end, because of Brexit. There are the increased costs and time associated with the just-in-time supply chain; there are various border and staffing problems. All this will lead to the closure of huge car plants, in working-class areas. If Starmer’s dad were to come home from his day at the factory to tell him this, would he tell him: “Make Brexit work”?
With the end of the Erasmus student exchange scheme comes poorer education opportunities, especially for children in poorer families – a generation that was simply too young to even get a say in whether we left the EU or not. Mental health is affecting this generation like never before, all while knowing they will be the first generation to earn less than their parents did.
Erasmus was one way for young people to enhance their education and escape this. If Starmer’s children come home from school and tell him that they’re one of the 86% of under 25s who would like to Rejoin the EU, would he tell them: “Make Brexit work”?
If Labour wins the next election, Starmer will undoubtedly have to face politicians in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Despite the Windsor Framework, which makes a bad deal a bit better than before, the Good Friday Agreement, which Starmer says he helped deliver, remains at risk. If it fell apart and Starmer had to go to the island of Ireland, perhaps as an intermediary, would he tell them: “Make Brexit work”?
Unfortunately, I think the answer to the above questions is “Yes”. Starmer would lie to his mum, dad, children, people on the island of Ireland and the whole country. He has no choice, while his stance remains “Make Brexit work”.
Brexit cannot work. Ever. Either Starmer knows this, and is lying to the country when he says it can, or he’s not as clever as the average person on the street like me. Or maybe it’s neither and he’s simply lost touch with us ordinary people?
If he’s lying, then we’re about to elect yet another prime minister despite knowing he’s lying, and we’ve just seen where that got us. If he’s not as clever as me – a lorry driver – then God help us on so many issues in these hugely troubling times. If he’s lost touch with ordinary people, then all he’ll be able to do to continue to appeal to them in the future is to lie to them like Boris Johnson did – again and again and again.
I go shopping in Asda every week. My shopping has gone from £80 a week to £120 a week due to inflation, of which 40-80% is caused by Brexit-related issues (depending on which economist you listen to). That is simply unsustainable for me, and I’m not even on minimum wage. With extra Brexit border measures coming into force from October 1, which will add to costs and give us less produce to choose from, should I tell myself: “Make Brexit work”?
I’ve survived on benefits in my life, after leaving the army. I’ve also been homeless, where the only help I received was from an army charity, SSAFA. I know what it’s like to not have enough money to buy electricity, or to put food on the table, or even to travel to a food bank. It’s soul-destroying.
If even the lowest valuation of UK inflation caused by Brexit is 40%, it is still a sizeable part of the added costs of everything we buy. If I know this, so does Starmer.
I work with other working-class people all day, every day. I know that lots of us were sucked into the lies that fuelled Brexit. So many of us are conned into believing that the foreign guy over there is the reason we’re skint, or our younger brother can’t get a job.
I know many of us fall for racist lies and I also know how it happens – I too said racist things while serving in the army. Racism was institutional, from the top down.
A very good friend of mine I served with in Germany is black. He was one of only a few black people in our regiment. Our sergeant got him to dress up as Santa one Christmas, going around giving everyone gifts while they laughed at him. I laughed too. I used to have racist “banter” with him, daily. It was what everyone did, and if you didn’t join in, especially in the army, you were the weird one and destined to be lonely.
After I left the army, grew up and educated myself about racism, black culture and history, I felt deep shame at the things I had said and asked him how he felt about it all. Even as it was happening, it hurt him, he said. This was how I had treated a good friend. When I posted about this on Facebook, many others we had served with said they now felt deep shame too.
I tell you this because I believe institutional racism was the underlying cause of Brexit. Now Keir Starmer is swept along with this xenophobia, saying that he wants to cut net migration and unveiling his own plans to “stop the boats”. As with “make Brexit work”, he thinks that’s what people want to hear, so he can win power. The fact is, our country needs immigration. It is a good thing. We need to make everyone proud and patriotic about our multicultural country. Not trying to divide us further to win a couple of years as prime minister.
“Make Brexit work” means forever worsening health and public services that many of us working class need. It means a forever declining manufacturing and services industry, where many of us working-class people work. It means a forever-diminishing education system for working-class people. It means an increase in institutional racism that will continue to drip down from the top. It means a worsening relationship between the four nations of the UK.
If Starmer’s Labour wins the next election on this ticket, it will quickly fail. That will mean just one term until they’re back out and it’ll be their fault, not the fault of the voters.
Instead, Starmer needs to tell us the truth. We are all sick of being lied to. He needs to fix the real problems in our country like housing, infrastructure, public services and inequality. This can be done simultaneously with applying to rejoin the EU, which would inject up to £40bn into our economy to help us fix those things. If we don’t rejoin, where is the money coming from to change anything?
There is a rapidly growing number of people who think like me. Polls show 60% of Britain wants to rejoin the EU now – and that’s before a mainstream Rejoin campaign has even really begun.
Labour cannot take our vote for granted just because we want rid of this Vote Leave government. But there is still time for Starmer to change. Just get rid of the “Make Brexit work” slogan before the election if you want our votes. Polls suggest that the people you’re trying to appeal to don’t believe you anyway and you’re pushing people away who don’t want to believe you.
We’re holding the second National Rejoin March in London on Saturday September 23, where tens of thousands will be watching our big stage on Parliament Square. There’s a slot for Keir Starmer to speak if he wants to start telling us the truth.
“A winner is a dreamer who never gives up,” as Nelson Mandela once said. We will never give up but Starmer seems to have done so and it will cost our country dearly.
Peter Corr is the co-founder of the National Rejoin March. For information on how to join the march on September 23, click here.