Sir Keir has overseen the Labour Party’s rapid revival in the polls after the disastrous 2019 general election. Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour bagged its worst electoral result since 1935. Brexit was the problem. That is a view almost unanimously agreed upon by Left and Right.
As with any election, myriad factors contributed to the Conservative Party ‒ led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson ‒ securing such a huge majority, but Labour’s failure to inspire loyalty from either Leavers or Remainers was the defining issue of their 2019 disaster.
Since then, Sir Keir ‒ quite understandably ‒ has done all he can to move on from Brexit and take the debate forward.
Even after the Government attracted widespread condemnation when Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted the Internal Market Bill breaks international law, Sir Keir was keen to avoid confrontation on Brexit and did not twist the knife.
He said: “We have left the EU, and therefore the arguments about Leave and Remain that tore us apart for years are over.
Labour feud: Keir Starmer’s furious Brexit row with Corbyn ally exposed
Ian Lavery wanted to make sure Labour respected Leave voters
“I’m very clear, therefore, that what’s now in the national interest is getting a deal. We need to get a deal and we need to move on.”
However, the former Shadow Brexit Secretary has not always been so tight-lipped and is widely seen as having been a key architect in Labour’s slide towards backing a second referendum before the last election.
Ever since the historic 2016 vote, he has always maintained that the will of the people must be respected ‒ but that has failed to stop Mr Johnson calling him a “Remainer lawyer”.
This perception appears to have taken hold within Labour circles, too, as reported in Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire’s new book ‘Left Out’.
READ MORE: Keir Starmer poised to cash in on Boris Johnson’s ‘catastrophe’
Sir Keir Starmer was Shadow Brexit Secretary under Jeremy Corbyn
Mr Pogrund and Mr Maguire note that, in the run up to the Labour Party conference in 2018, the “Shadow Cabinet was fragmenting” on Brexit.
They write: “Mr Corbyn’s position had been not to take one ‒ so as to ensure the Shadow Cabinet and his own inner circle were united around the same one, whatever it was.”
But as then Prime Minister Theresa May was finalising her proposed withdrawal agreement with the EU at the time, this approach was beginning to wear thin and “his oldest allies were wobbling around him”.
The book continues: “Once a strident Eurosceptic, Diane Abott had mellowed with the times and took the same line as Another Europe and voters and Labour activists in her constituency: the Brexit vote of 2016 was the result of a racist, right-wing project that all good progressives should resist.
“The impact a Tory Brexit would have on migration weighed particularly on Ms Abbott.”
Labour civil war: Corbyn’s dire message to voters ahead of leadership [INSIGHT]
Keir Starmer’s fury at John McDonnell over EU speech [ANALYSIS]
Labour Party divided – insider warns ‘knives are out for Keir Starmer’ [EXCLUSIVE]
Sir Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn
Sir Keir Starmer has led Labour through the coronavirus crisis
This point appears to have been a view shared by other members of the Shadow Cabinet ‒ Sir Keir included, according to Mr Pogrund and Mr Maguire.
However, it met the wrath of Corbynites who represented Leave constituencies in Red Wall seats.
Jon Trickett and Ian Lavery, in particular, arguably foresaw the drubbing at the polls made inevitable by this perception of Brexit by senior members of a party intended to represent the working class.
Mr Pogrund and Mr Maguire note: “At meetings of the Brexit subcommittee she [Ms Abbott] argued alongside Ms Thornberry and Sir Keir in opposition to Mr Trickett’s and Mr Lavery’s axis of blokeishness.
“In one meeting Mr Lavery, who abided by the same working-class honour code that had governed behaviour in the miners’ welfare clubs of Northumberland, was even moved to break his self-denying ordinance of swearing in front of women.
“Ms Abott had appeared to suggest that northern Leave voters were racist; Sir Keir gently nodded, seemingly in assent.
Brexit: A timeline
“Mr Lavery exploded, ranting at length at Sir Keir, the only man available to absorb the fusillade.
“‘If you f***ing agree, do you want to f***ing try that again, son?’
“His rage did now cow Sir Keir; whose manoeuvres in the lead-up to conference would give Mr Lavery his answer.”
Labour went on to pass a motion at conference that would leave the door open for a second referendum in September 2018.
As Mr Lavery appeared to predict, the move was a disaster.
To find out details of coronavirus in your area, please fill in your postcode below.
Labour was decimated in Red Wall seats ‒ across Wales and northern England ‒ and, although Mr Corbyn’s lack of personal appeal was a significant factor, Brexit was the key.
Mr Johnson was able to capitalise as he contrasted Labour’s ambiguity with a simple message: “Get Brexit done.”
He now finds himself in Downing Street boasting the biggest Tory majority since the days of Margaret Thatcher.
Sir Keir, meanwhile, has an enormous mountain to climb if he wants to return Labour to power for the first time since 2010.
‘Left Out’ was published by Vintage in 2020, it is available here.