Tories accuse Sir Keir Starmer of wanting to reverse Brexit – after the Labour leader told conference 'we don't want to diverge' from EU rules

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  • Keir Starmer said UK-EU relations could be stronger if they took the same path 

Labour’s mask ‘slipped’ last night after Keir Starmer was filmed saying he did not want to diverge from EU rules.

In what Tories described as a ‘monstrous’ plan to reverse Brexit, Labour’s leader indicated he would align with Brussels if he won the next election.

Sir Keir told a centre-Left conference in Montreal that UK relations with the EU could be much stronger if both took the same path.

His statement goes much further than he has previously been prepared to admit. Cabinet ministers said the footage obtained by Sky News raised questions as to what Sir Keir thought was ‘the point’ of Brexit if Britain did not diverge. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the comments would ‘worry a lot of people that what he really wants to do is to unpick Brexit’.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: ‘Keir voted Remain. Then he backed a second referendum. Then he didn’t. Now he wants to rejoin the EU in all but name. What does Labour stand for?’

And Michael Gove, the Housing Secretary, said Sir Keir ‘wants to return us to the EU effectively and he wants to re-run the Brexit agonies of the past’.

Sir Keir (pictured right in Montreal on September 16) told a centre-Left conference in Montreal that UK relations with the EU could be much stronger if both took the same path

Sir Keir (pictured right in Montreal on September 16) told a centre-Left conference in Montreal that UK relations with the EU could be much stronger if both took the same path

At the event on Saturday, Starmer said 'most of the conflict' since Brexit had arisen because the UK 'wants to diverge and do different things to the rest of our EU partners'

At the event on Saturday, Starmer said ‘most of the conflict’ since Brexit had arisen because the UK ‘wants to diverge and do different things to the rest of our EU partners’

Replying to a question from John McTernan, a former aide to Tony Blair, Sir Keir told his audience, including Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, that ‘the more we share values’ then the less UK-EU friction there would be. ‘Most of the conflict with the UK being outside of the EU arises insofar as the UK wants to diverge and do different things to the rest of our EU partners,’ Sir Keir said at the Saturday night event in Montreal.

‘Obviously the more we share values, the more we share a future together, the less the conflict, and actually, different ways of solving problems become available. Actually we don’t want to diverge, we don’t want to lower standards, we don’t want to rip up environmental standards, working standards for people that work, food standards and all the rest of it.

READ MORE: Moment Keir Starmer is caught on camera saying Labour ‘don’t want to diverge’ from EU rules at centre-left summit amid claims he wants to ‘reverse Brexit by stealth’ if he wins power 

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‘Suddenly you’re in a space where – notwithstanding the obvious fact that we are outside the EU and not in the EEA – there’s a lot more common ground than you might think.’

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith claimed Sir Keir’s comments had the hallmarks of Sir Tony: ‘This is the Blair influence now with his team saying ‘you need to take small baby steps towards the EU’.

‘We now know the exact plan that Starmer wants to set for a Labour government, which is that they will attach themselves by umbilical cord to the European Union. And then bit by bit by bit, they will argue that this isn’t helpful, and we would be better off if we were a member and eventually they will start negotiations to rejoin.

‘The public won’t have voted for that at all – and this is a monstrous and secret plan which has been exposed. The mask of Labour policy has slipped, and they will be putting us back in.’

Priti Patel, a Conservative former home secretary, said: ‘Sir Keir has spent most of his eight years in parliament opposing Brexit and trying to reverse it and he stood on a manifesto to have a second referendum so he could campaign once again for Remain.

‘He and his party are wedded to the EU and the era of European sovereignty.’

Conservative ex-cabinet minister Simon Clarke warned that being a ‘rule-taker’ and ‘blindly following the EU’ would be ‘a disastrous mistake’.

‘The whole point of Brexit is our ability to do things differently,’ he said. ‘From our vaccine roll out to freeports to solvency rules to our membership of the CPTPP [trade alliance], we are already demonstrating why this matters.’

Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, told Sky News: ‘I don’t know whether it was intended or not, and maybe it just slipped out late on the Saturday evening.

‘The fact that he hasn’t said anything quite similar in the UK is perhaps telling. Maybe what he thinks is that we shouldn’t diverge too much with the EU because he understands instinctively that it’s actually bad for businesses.’

A spokesman for Sir Keir rejected suggestions it was a ‘secret recording’, insisting: ‘This was a public event and these were public comments that are entirely in line with Labour Party policy.

‘The Tories have not diverged from Europe on labour, environment or food standards, for example, and if they are planning to do those things then they owe people an explanation.’

He clarified: 'Actually we don't want to diverge, we don't want to lower standards, we don't want to rip up environmental standards, standards for people that work, food standards and all the rest of it'

He clarified: ‘Actually we don’t want to diverge, we don’t want to lower standards, we don’t want to rip up environmental standards, standards for people that work, food standards and all the rest of it’

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: 'Keir voted Remain. Then he backed a second referendum. Then he didn't. Now he wants to rejoin the EU in all but name. What does Labour stand for?' Pictured at the UN headquarters in New York City on September 19

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: ‘Keir voted Remain. Then he backed a second referendum. Then he didn’t. Now he wants to rejoin the EU in all but name. What does Labour stand for?’ Pictured at the UN headquarters in New York City on September 19

The footage emerged after Sir Keir met French president Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée Palace.

While he was in Paris, a French and German plan that could take Britain back into the EU as an ‘associate member’ was revealed, a move sources said was designed with Labour in mind.

Sir Tony, who is said to be convinced that Brexit is now a vote winner for Labour, helped to broker the meeting.

Earlier this week, Sir Keir vowed to rewrite the UK’s deal with Brussels to secure ‘much better’ arrangements.

He insisted he did not want to reverse the referendum result, was focused on trying to ‘make it work’ and would not take moves to rejoin the EU’s single market or its customs union.




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