Two Labour Europeans, with a combined experience of over 80 years supporting the Labour party and European cooperation, offer their views on the priorities for Sir Keir Starmer in the light of Covid-19 and the looming end to the transition period.
In the shadow of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Labour Party is rebuilding. Eurosceptic leader Jeremy Corbyn is gone, replaced by former Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Keir Starmer. Starmer is experienced and intelligent, with a strong grasp of detail and he has, in Angela Rayner, an inspirational deputy leader and campaigner, with strong ties to Labour’s roots.
The new shadow cabinet is young, talented, diverse, and spans the broad centre-left of British politics.
Many congratulations to Oxford East MP Anneliese Dodds, who continues her rapid rise through the ranks to become the first female shadow chancellor; her focus and technical expertise will be much needed to hold the government to account in its handling of the economic fallout of the pandemic.
Ed Miliband, the former leader, is back covering the business, energy and industrial strategy briefs, where his experience in government will be invaluable. Proven performers like Jonathan Ashworth (health), Emily Thornberry (international trade) and David Lammy (justice) will work alongside fresh faces such as Nick Thomas-Symonds (shadow Home Secretary) and Lisa Nandy (shadow foreign secretary).
Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper remain chairs of the EU and Home Affairs committees respectively.
They will have their work cut out. The coronavirus pandemic may be the biggest crisis that the EU has ever faced, and a united European response is essential. Viruses do not respect national borders, and we must resist a retreat to isolationist policies. Never has the need for an internationalist, outward-looking, broad-church Labour Party been more pressing.
Starmer and his shadow cabinet must work hard to undo the damage of the last few years, and make the case for pan-European solidarity in the face of this new and unexpected crisis.
But they must also hold our government to account for its failings. Why, given the shortage of ventilators in our hospitals, did our government fail to take part in the EU’s ventilator procurement scheme? Was it really a failure of communication?(https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-52052694)
Given the current focus on dealing with Coronavirus, and the likely economic fallout, it is clearly sensible to extend the Brexit transition period, and avoid crashing out at the end of the year. As Anneliese Dodds has said: ‘the last thing many businesses need now, and as we are climbing out of this crisis, is additional trade barriers’. The government has so far refused calls for an extension and is continuing the Brexit negotiations online this week: Starmer, Dodds and colleagues must keep up the pressure. They must also call for the publication of the Brexit impact assessments prepared for the government, which the government is hiding.
The new Labour front bench team have a huge challenge ahead of them, and how they meet this challenge will play a significant role in shaping both our response to the global pandemic, and our future relationship with Europe. We wish them all the best in their endeavours.