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Will the Lib Dem policy to rejoin the EU single market put pressure on Labour? – LabourList

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to bring the UK back into the European Union’s single market in their election manifesto, in a move that could bring Brexit back into the political spotlight.

The EU single market ensures the free movement of goods, services, money and people, removing technical, legal and bureaucratic barriers, and Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said joining would bring down prices and mean more opportunities for young British people to work overseas.

Why Labour and the Tories are avoiding Brexit

Until now, Britain’s relationship with the European Union has not featured prominently in the election campaign, however, despite being a major issue in 2017 and 2019.

The Tories are likely keen to avoid highlighting Brexit given the economic damage done and perhaps voter fatigue over the issue. But there could be significant political capital in exposing just how severe the consequences have been, helping to further erode the Tories’ traditional reputation for economic competence.

READ MORE: Is Labour’s breakthrough in Leave-voting areas really what it seems?

Yet Labour since Keir Starmer became leader has generally sought to avoid doing anything that could be spun as wanting to reverse the UK’s exit from Europe.

Regaining support in Leave-voting areas following the collapse of the “Red Wall” in 2019 has been central to Starmer’s project, with the author of a book on these seats now his director of strategy.

Psephologist Sir John Curtice has previously noted: “Although the party has indicated a wish to soften Brexit in some respects, it does not wish to reopen the issue of single market and customs union membership, and has seemingly been inclined to downplay the issue.”

Lib Dem move risks upping pressure on Labour

The Liberal Democrats’ pledge to bring the UK partially back into the fold could therefore present a headache for Labour on the campaign trail if it garners much cut through. It comes on top of the Scottish National Party’s continued attacks on Labour’s stance, calling the party “wedded” to the Tories “growth-destroying Brexit”.

Labour may now face more questions from broadcasters about its exact position and whether it backs a closer relationship, as well as pressure from those activists who either support rejoining or worry about the Lib Dems and Greens near them.

Davey even said rejoining the EU itself was a “long-term goal”, albeit saying he will not push for it in the next parliament. Meanwhile the small Rejoin EU Party is also standing candidates on a single-issue platform in 26 seats, many of them currently Labour-held.

Laura Parker of the campaign group Another Europe is Possible, also a former adviser to Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, said: “Of course the UK should rejoin the single market – and not just because cutting off trade with major trading partners makes no economic sense.

“It’s also to the detriment of us all that in ending the freedom of movement, which was integral to our single market membership we are stopping people from coming to study, work and live in the UK and forcing families to live apart.”

Many voters don’t know Labour’s stance

Yet both Nigel Farage’s return to frontline politics and bitter memories of 2019 will sustain many senior Labour figures’ sense they cannot afford to give any ground that might be used to paint the party again as a Remainer project.

The limited airtime the Lib Dems get in the media may also limit what traction its single market commitment gets, and other campaign developments could mean Westminster journalists’ focus quickly moves on.

While Labour’s stance seems unlikely to change, the bigger risk is simply that any more airtime on Brexit means more voters understanding Labour’s current position – and finding they don’t like it.

Analysis by Curtice found not only that many voters do not know Labour’s stance, but also that those who support rejoining are twice as likely to think Labour will rejoin. Curtice has said Labour might see this is as “signal of success” in downplaying the issue.

Few observers think Brexit will be central on many voters’ minds this election, however. Christabel Cooper, director of research at Starmerite think tank Labour Together, recently told LabourList Britain’s relationship with the EU had lost salience, and was unlikely to shape people’s voting patterns.

“All the research we have done, unless you deliberately prompt Brexit, people don’t talk about it.”

Voting Lib Dem won’t ‘influence what happens next’

Labour campaigners are also likely to make the argument to any voters who are especially passionate about a closer UK-EU relationship that a vote for the Lib Dems is not the way to achieve it.

Stella Creasy, restanding to be MP in Walthamstow and chair of  Labour Movement for Europe, said: “Improving our trading access is just one aspect of the need to reset our relationship with Europe.

“Anyone concerned about the rise of the far-right, the damage Brexit did, the further destruction caused by the Tories in implementing it with bonkers ideas like the Brexit border tax, and the importance of acting quickly to save the British jobs and businesses at stake should look closer to home.

“You can have much more influence on what happens next by campaigning for Labour Movement for Europe candidates, and joining us in the LME rebuilding our relationship with Europe, than voting Lib Dem.”

More Lib Dem pressure on Palestine and benefits

Europe is not the only issue where the Lib Dems will likely seek to put pressure on Labour in the general election.

Ed Davey’s party is also pledging to immediately recognise the state of Palestine and to scrap the two-child benefit cap, both of which have been topics of fraught debate in the Labour ranks.

Labour’s full policy platform will be revealed at its manifesto launch this Thursday.

Read more of our 2024 general election coverage here.

If you have anything to share that we should be looking into or publishing about this or any other topic involving Labour or about the election, on record or strictly anonymously, contact us at [email protected]

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