KEIR Starmer’s claims he could secure a better Brexit deal for the UK are insubstantial and vague, according to the head of a leading think tank.

The Labour leader suggested in an interview with the Financial Times he intended to renegotiate the UK’s terms of exit from the EU.

Britain’s Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) is up for review in 2025, and could provide grounds for a reassessment of some “technical” aspects of the deal.

But Anthony Salamone (below), the managing director of political analysis firm European Merchants, said the Labour leaders’ ability to “substantially” renegotiate the deal would be severely limited by the political will in both London and Brussels.

The National: Anthony Salamone is Managing Director of European Merchants, a political analysis firm in Edinburgh

Speaking to The National, the political analyst and EU expert said he was “sceptical” Labour would be able to affect a “major” change in the trading bloc’s relationship with the UK, arguing Brussels preferred “stability over closeness”.

Salamone said: “I’m sceptical of there being a major change in the relationship between the EU and the UK in the years ahead because it requires both political will in national capitals in the EU but also clear public and political support in the UK and I’m not sure that all of those exist. They would all have to.”

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Starmer’s proposals, which are thought to revolve around striking a veterinary agreement with the EU to allow the smoother trade of animals and food among other things, were vague, Salamone said.

Lack of detail

“The key ingredient that’s missing here is a detailed proposal from Labour as to what exactly it wants to change and how it would want to change it,” he said.

“And also perhaps some insights from them as to why the EU would agree to whatever it was they were proposing.

“So I think it is a significant challenge to substantially change the EU-UK relationship, easier to amend parts of it but it all depends on what the UK is going to request, because the EU is not the one asking for change and that’s been the story for the whole Brexit process.”

He added: “The EU will prioritise stability over closeness, I think that’s important to say.

“The second thing is that the fundamentals of this haven’t changed, which is that if the UK wants to have a closer relationship with the EU, then it needs to be willing accept the EU’s rules and standards and that was the whole reason that we ended up with the deal we have in the first place.

“So if Starmer becomes prime minister and wants to have a closer relationship with the EU, that doesn’t change the reality that that means the UK accepting rules and standards that it has no say in making. I don’t know whether that would be more palatable to the public under a Labour government than under a Conservative government.”

Brexit review

Starmer (below) referenced the 2025 date of the mandatory review of the TCA in his interview with the Financial Times, saying: “Almost everyone recognises the deal [Boris] Johnson struck is not a good deal — it’s far too thin.

The National: Keir Starmer

“As we go into 2025 we will attempt to get a much better deal for the UK.”

Salamone said this potentially reflected a misunderstanding on Starmer’s part of the purpose of the review.

“It is a mandatory review but I don’t see that as being a vehicle to reopen a huge amount of substance, the purpose of that is just to make sure that everything, from a technical point of view is working the way it’s supposed to and if detailed amendments need to be made to enable the agreement to function,” he said.

“It’s not an opportunity to reopen the whole deal and renegotiate massive sections, so I imagine that that could be another case where the Westminster bubble is not fully aligned with understanding how the EU works.

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“The review is … of course that is a political moment, if Starmer wanted to present a vision that the EU were receptive to, I’m sure that would be the logical time but it’s not as if the legal process of that view is the vehicle to have wholesale change in the UK’s relationship with the EU.”

And reopening negotiations on substantive areas of the UK-EU relationship could create a precedent for each new government to do so after an election, Salamone warned – something the EU would likely want to avoid.

He said: “Even if there were political appetite and intention in Brussels to renegotiate the deal, of course they will be thinking in the back of their minds, ‘Well what if the Conservatives win the next UK General Election and undo this again and we don’t want that.’

“But it doesn’t mean that, there is still space for a Labour government to make some changes to the agreement if the EU goes along with that but maybe something that is more technical, for instance like this veterinary agreement, it’s less appealing for a future Conservative government to undo.

“Whereas if you had wholesale change about moving the UK much closer to the single market for instance, and that were to be reversed in five years’ time, the EU would be very unhappy with that.”

Starmer’s political opponents have seized on his comments and the Labour leader has been accused of trying to deceive voters his “tweaks” will solve problems with the Brexit deal.

'Pathetic and dishonest'

Alyn Smith, the SNP’s Europe spokesperson, said: “Labour are singing from the same hymn sheet as the Tories – they both support a hard Brexit, which would see us outside of the Customs Union and the world’s largest single market – which is seven times the size of the UK – thus ignoring Scotland’s wishes and interests.”

Alba’s Westminster leader Neale Hanvey (below) said: “There can be no doubt that Brexit has inflicted untold economic damage on Scotland, as well as denying Scots the unrestricted opportunities previously enjoyed, to travel to, study and work in Europe.

The National: Neale Hanvey

“But when Starmer has spent the last two years pandering to Little Englander sentiment south of the Border we can have zero confidence that Labour will take the necessary action to mitigate this disaster.”

Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer added: “Keir Starmer knows exactly how disastrous [Brexit] has been – he campaigned against it.

“To see him pretending that he can somehow fix it with small tweaks it is as pathetic as it is dishonest.”

Labour were approached for further comment.