Jeff OversPAEmily Thornberry
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It took quite a while, but Labor is talking about Brexit again. In her first major intervention as shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves began the week by unveiling a new “Made in Britain” policy that the party would change procurement rules to empower local businesses.
When she detailed how the plan would secure supply chains by “reshoring jobs,” as the US and French have done, Reeves pronounced the B word. “It’s about solving some of the problems with our Brexit deal that the government signed last year,” she told me on TimesRadio.
This deal “fell short of our creative industries, our professional services, and our agricultural and food businesses. where we have seen exports to the EU drop by 47%, ”she added. New blue passports are being made in France, only one UK company wins HS2 contracts, foreign companies supplying PPE during the pandemic are all examples of government failure, she said.
For Labor, the political advantages of this new policy are obvious. This week’s latest GDP figures showed that professional services and construction are picking up again, but manufacturing and agriculture are not. The former are concentrated in London and the south-east, while the latter are crucial for the Red Wall seats (many of which are a mix of town and country) in the north and the Midlands.
And while Reeves is careful not to claim that Labor would reverse Brexit, she is determined to highlight the shortcomings of the Johnson deal. By focusing on making, selling and buying more UK products, she made her very first Commons appearance in her new role. Add in examples of Labor Metro Mayors implementing the idea this week and you can see that it is not a one-time strategy.
Labor’s victory at Batley and Spen appears to have helped fuel that attempt to get to the top. And further evidence of a newfound faith in the subject comes in our latest Commons People podcast starring Emily Thornberry. The Shade’s international trade minister told us, “Six months after the deal, we can now say, ‘If you say this is a teething problem, it obviously isn’t.'”
Liz Truss is like the “secretary of state for a donut” because she has focused on all trade, apart from the big blatant trade with the EU, Thornberry said. “It won’t take responsibility for mending the deal we really need, this is the biggest trade deal, this is the trade deal with the EU that has big blatant holes … We have to fix this really thin deal. It’s like very thin. ”
Strong stuff, but Thornberry is clearly not afraid of taking the fight to her counterpart. On the podcast, she says Truss is “a tribute act by Margaret Thatcher.” And she reveals the gossip in the Department of International Trade that Truss has a habit of writing “Too long, not read” on documents in her red box of ministers.
Thornberry also underscored Labour’s tougher stance on China, revealing that she had talks with Taiwan’s UK representative today, urging UK firms to disclose whether they use Uyghur products. This follows Lisa Nandy’s call to Great Britain earlier this week to stage a political, but not sporting, boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
The “Made in Britain” policy itself has echoes of Gordon Brown’s “British Jobs for British Workers” without using precisely that expression. I remember David Cameron being so outraged by the slogan he once said on PMQs that it was “on loan from the National Front.” And to recall how politics has come since then, Cameron even complained that the politics violated EU free movement rules.
However, the focus on British manufacturing and sourcing may also show that Labor is also becoming familiar with the idea of “progressive patriotism,” a phrase that Rebecca Long-Bailey tested in the leadership campaign but quickly backed away.
Gareth Southgate’s calm, inclusive leadership of the English football team embodied this concept better than most politicians (especially Tory backbencher Lee Anderson, who will amazingly boycott England’s big game this weekend because the team continues to get on their knees).
While Boris Johnson wraps himself in bunting while curiously wearing his English top under a suit jacket, Labor criticizes his meager trade deal with the EU. I wonder if Keir Starmer will go all the way and promise “a better Brexit” in the next election?