General election 2024: what are the parties saying about Brexit? Labour, Tory, Lib Dem and Reform manifestos explained

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In the 2019 general election, Brexit was the main theme as Boris Johnson won a landslide by promising to get it done.

This time around it’s hardly being mentioned, despite the huge influence leaving the EU has had on policies and our everyday lives. Only around one in 10 Leave supporters think Brexit has gone well, while financial institutions say it has stripped 5% off the British economy.

Sir Nick Harvey, a former Liberal Democrat minister and CEO of European Movement UK says “that political candidates of all parties must acknowledge the elephant in the room – that Brexit isn’t working, and that public opinion is shifting”. 

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But what are the parties saying about Brexit - in their manifestos and otherwise. Here’s everything you need to know.

The Conservatives

In 2019, the Tories’ manifesto was full of the phrase “Brexit benefits” on almost every page, however now the benefits appear to have almost dried up. In his speech at the manifesto launch, Rishi Sunak mentioned the word once - praising “Brexit freedoms” - but did not go into any detail about what they actually are.

In the latest manifesto, the Conservatives say they will “seize the benefits of Brexit by signing further trade deals, speeding up infrastructure and unblocking 100,000 homes, cutting red tape for business, and creating new fishing opportunities”.

It seems unlikely that British farmers would welcome more trade deals, as they have accused the government of allowing them to be undercut with the free-trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand. While Brexit has caused significant red tape for any British business which exports, imports or trades in Northern Ireland. 

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There are no mentions in the manifesto of trying to improve on the free-trade agreement with Europe. Instead, it says that “thanks to Brexit, we have taken back control of our laws and freed British businesses from unnecessary burdens”. I’m not sure many British businesses would agree with that. 

The only re-negotiation promised with Europe is around a joint expeditionary force and other defensive treaties with Poland and Germany. 

What are our politicians saying about Brexit this election? Credit: Kim Mogg/GettyWhat are our politicians saying about Brexit this election? Credit: Kim Mogg/Getty
What are our politicians saying about Brexit this election? Credit: Kim Mogg/Getty | Kim Mogg/Getty

Labour

If you thought the Tories didn’t want to talk about Brexit, well Labour mentions it even less. It’s only mentioned once in the party’s general election manifesto, and that’s on page 117. 

It says: “With Labour, Britain will stay outside of the EU. But to seize the opportunities ahead, we must make Brexit work. We will reset the relationship and seek to deepen ties with our European friends, neighbours and allies. That does not mean reopening the divisions of the past. There will be no return to the single market, the customs union, or freedom of movement.”

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This is something that Keir Starmer has continually said, despite once campaigning for a second referendum. “Instead, Labour will work to improve the UK’s trade and investment relationship with the EU, by tearing down unnecessary barriers to trade,” the manifesto says.

“We will seek to negotiate a veterinary agreement to prevent unnecessary border checks and help tackle the cost of food; help our touring artists; and secure a mutual recognition agreement for professional qualifications to help open up markets for UK service exporters.”

This is something businesses are desperate to see, however it will not be easy. The EU is in the stronger position here, and has no need to cede ground to the UK. Rachel Reeves said the manifesto was not an “exclusive” list of things that needed to be renegotiated, telling the Financial Times: “We would look to improve our trading relationship with Europe. 

“I don’t think anyone voted Leave because they were not happy that chemicals regulations were the same across Europe.” These remarks appear to suggest that Labour would go further than previously thought in pushing for improved trade terms with the bloc.

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The Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have traditionally been the most pro-EU party, however in 2019 it cost their leader Jo Swinson her seat. Ed Davey has taken a more cautious approach this time, setting out an incremental approach to rejoining the single market.

The party wants to rebuild the relationship with our European partners, which would include restoring Erasmus and bringing in a Youth Mobility Scheme, to allow young people to travel and work freely. 

The manifesto says: “Finally, once ties of trust and friendship have been renewed, and the damage the Conservatives have caused to trade between the UK and EU has begun to be repaired, we would aim to place the UK-EU relationship on a more formal and stable footing by seeking to join the Single Market.”

Daniel Callaghan, the Liberal Democrat candidate standing against Rishi Sunak in Richmond, told me that this has to be achieved “incrementally”. “It’s no secret that the Lib Dems were really strongly pro-Remain,” he said. “I thought it was a tragedy that we left and one day in my lifetime I would hope to see us back in the EU. I think we have to make that case incrementally, I don’t think it’s feasible to rejoin the day after the election.” 

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The Green Party

The Green Party is another party which wants to rejoin the customs union and single market, but sees this as a path towards full EU membership. In that sense, it goes further than the Lib Dems.

It says that Green MPs will work towards “re-joining the EU as soon as the domestic political situation is favourable and EU member states are willing”. It also adds the Green Party would support rejoining the Erasmus programme. 

Reform UK

Reform UK announced its “contract” with the UK, as opposed to a manifesto. I’m unsure of the difference. On the first page it says “Brexit is the opportunity of a lifetime”, and it has a whole section devoted to Brexit titled: “Brexit Means Taking Back Control of our Borders, Money and Laws.”

In it, it says it would scrap EU regulations with immediate effect, abandon the Windsor Framework and try to renegotiate the trade deal with the EU. Remember the Conservatives initially wanted to scrap all the EU laws but found it impossible as it was interlinked with British law. It’s also likely that if the UK government abandoned the Windsor Framework, the trade deal with the EU would collapse and there could be an economic meltdown worse than the mini-budget.

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Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.

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