Only a few months ago, Sir Keir Starmer was making headlines as Shadow Brexit Secretary for his role moving the Labour leadership in favour of a second referendum. However, since taking over the party, Sir Keir has gone rather quiet on the matter. On the day the Government openly admitted it was going to break international law by overwriting parts of last year’s withdrawal agreement, the Labour leader did not launch any political attacks on Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
This is despite the civil service’s top lawyer Jonathan James quitting in protest over the decision.
Sir Keir, a lawyer himself, focused his Brexit intervention on the message that the issue had been settled and the divide between Leave and Remain was over.
It can be argued that the reason why Sir Keir is so determined not to talk about Brexit is because he knows it was the very reason Labour suffered its worst defeat since 1935 at the last general election.
However, unearthed reports suggest this might change now that Unite the Union, Labour’s biggest single donor, is to cut the amount of money it gives the party.
Despite the union’s General Secretary Len McCluskey repeatedly claiming Labour was not a “Remain party” after the 2016 EU referendum, he is said to have been the one who convinced his ally, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, to push for a softer Brexit.
Talking to ITV’s Robert Peston last year, Mr McCluskey called on former Prime Minister Theresa May to accept that a soft version of Brexit was the only one achievable.
He told Mr Peston that he was “vehemently in favour of a people’s vote, it’s called a general election” but said that he was against any efforts that could reverse the Brexit process as a whole.
He said: “My view is that having had a 2016 referendum where the people have voted to come out of the EU, to try and deflect away from that threatens the whole democratic fabric on which we operate… I’m saying that in reality, it is not the best option for our nation.
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“My union’s position is fairly clear. We have a union policy that first of all recognised and respected the 2016 referendum.
“We in Unite, we put more money, more resources, in campaigning for a Remain vote, but we lost and you have to accept the democratic decision of a referendum.
“In my union, an awful lot of people voted Remain and an awful lot of people voted Leave.
“The people who voted Leave in this nation of ours didn’t vote to lose their job, and therefore the protection of jobs and investment is essential.
“That requires a commitment to a customs union.
“Not proper membership. We need a customs union, we need access to a tariff-free single market.”
Mr McCluskey’s position arguably ended up shaping Labour’s Brexit policy; which was to campaign for a deal that saw Britain remaining in the customs union and being closely aligned to the single market.
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, Ashford councillor and general secretary of Labour Leave Brendan Chilton claimed Sir Keir’s only chance to win the next general election is to show voters that he has ditched that policy.
He said: “It is all very well saying ‘let’s Get Brexit done’ and ‘let’s get a deal’.
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“But Keir Starmer can only accept a deal if it is favourable to this country.
“Your job as Prime Minister or leader of the opposition, just like Lisa Nandy said, is to put Britain first.
“You do not put Britain first by staying in a customs union where you lose control of your trade.
“By handing over jurisdiction of Northern Ireland to the court because that’s giving away part of your country.
“You do not allow free movement because you don’t put British borders first.”
He added: “The real test for Labour will come later this year, in a month or two.
“If Boris comes back with a deal that is less than substantial, will Labour support it?
“And if it is a choice between a terrible deal and no deal, will they be prepared to support no deal?
“That will be when Labour’s true colours on Brexit are revealed and whether or not we have, as a party, really learnt the lesson from last year’s election.”
Now that Mr McCkluskey has distanced Unite from Labour, Sir Keir might be more free to do so.
Mr McCluskey, who was a strong supporter of Mr Corbyn, first ordered a review into Unite’s contributions to Labour in August following Mr Starmer’s decision to pay damages to former party staff who became whistleblowers over antisemitism.
Unite gave the party £3milllion in advance of the 2019 election, and about £7million over the course of the year in total.
A meeting of its executive on Tuesday is reported to have decided to cut its contribution by 10 percent.