It’s truly bemusing, says Alastair Campbell in The New European, that at a time when the public is growing “more and more convinced that Brexit was a mistake”, our politicians are moving in the opposite direction. Rishi Sunak pretends the whole thing is going swimmingly. Keir Starmer, despite having vigorously campaigned for Remain, wants Labour to come across as “more Catholic than the Pope” over Brexit’s “sacrosanct status”. The former Labour leader Neil Kinnock has a good name for this “code of silence” on the economic damage of leaving the EU: “Brexomertà”.
I understand why Starmer and his team don’t want the next election to be all about Brexit, given the pasting they received last time. But they do want it to be about the economy – and unless the massive flaws in the Tories’ “disastrous” Brexit deal are fixed, our growth rates in the coming years will be pitiful. While Labour rightly wants to emphasise that our current economic malaise is the result of “12 Tory years, not just 12 Truss weeks”, that argument is much less powerful if you cannot talk about Brexit, the “single most important” economic event of those 12 years: the one that has “torn 4% out of the economy, lost us well over £100bn in trade”, and driven up household bills by an average of £210 a year. Lagging behind public opinion, whatever the electoral strategy, is “never a good place for political leaders to be”. Thanks to Brexomertà, that’s exactly where Sunak and Starmer are positioning themselves.