Keir Starmer speech: Labour leader uses Brexit Vote Leave slogan for new ‘Take Back Control’ bill

The Labour Party leader, who voted Remain, said he ‘embraces’ the message pedalled by Vote Leave - and will use it to drive power out of Westminster.

Sir Keir Starmer has pinched the flagship slogan of Vote Leave by pledging a ‘Take Back Control’ bill if he becomes the UK’s next Prime Minister.

In his first major policy speech of 2023 in Stratford, London, the Labour Party leader said he would “embrace” the message pedalled by Leave campaigners during the Brexit Referendum - but turn it from a “slogan to a solution”. This would involve a “huge power shift out of Westminster”, with the bill giving devolved powers to local communities over employment support, transport, energy, climate change, housing, childcare provision, and spending.

The Holborn and St Pancras MP explained: “There was something sitting behind the Leave vote. That phrase was really powerful – it was like Heineken, it got into people. The more they asked themselves, ‘Do I have control?’, the more they answered ‘No’.

“It’s not unreasonable for us to recognise the desire for communities to stand on their own feet. It’s what Take Back Control meant. The control people want is control over their lives and their community. So we will embrace the Take Back Control message. But we’ll turn it from a slogan to a solution - from a catchphrase into change.”

In 2016, Starmer backed Vote Remain - and campaigned heavily for the public to vote to stay in the European Union. Asked whether he regrets his position nowadays, the MP said he had “always accepted the argument” that if “you can’t make ends meet” or “you don’t have a secure job”, then “you don’t have control”. He added that we are “many years on” from the referendum and it’s time to embrace the reality.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during a visit to UCL at Here East, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London. Picture date: Thursday January 5, 2023. Credit: PA

The Labour leader’s speech comes just one day after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set out the government’s key plans and priorities for the coming year. He made five main pledges, which included halving inflation, dealing with the crisis in the NHS, and tackling small boats crossing the English Channel.

But Starmer criticised the Prime Minister for giving more “promises” and no “solutions”. He said that Westminster as a system is unworkable, because “people only describe problems” rather than doing anything, adding that ministers’ “short-term mindset” amounts to “sticking plaster politics”.

He added that Sunak was in denial about the state of the country, asking the audience in Stratford, “are you and your family better off than you were 13 years ago? Does anything in Britain work today better than it did 13 years ago?”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during his first major domestic speech of 2023 at Plexal, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London. Picture date: Wednesday January 4, 2023. Credit: PA

Elsewhere in his speech, Starmer discussed Labour’s “fully-costed plan” for dealing with the crisis in the NHS. This includes the biggest training programme in the service’s history, providing more doctors, more nurses, and more health visitors. He also said he will “give care workers the respect and status they deserve” to help “drive up standards in our care system”.

Touching on strikes, the MP again refused to specify what pay rise Labour would offer nurses, rail staff and other public sector workers - saying he would “not say what the right percentage is”. Instead, Starmer said the Labour Party approach would be to “get in the room” with unions, adding that it is “very important to understand how much people are struggling to make ends meet.”

Starmer was also asked about the government’s proposed anti-strike legislation, including its plans to mandate minimum service levels during industrial action. He said if legislation amounts to further restrictions, he would repeal this if he becomes Prime Minister.

The Labour Party leader explained: “I don’t think this legislation is going to work. I do not think legislation is the way you bring an end to industrial disputes. You need to get in the room and compromise. You can’t legislate your way out of 30 years of failure.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer leaves the stage after delivering his first major speech of 2023 at UCL in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London. Picture date: Thursday January 5, 2023. Credit: PA

Looking towards the next general election, Starmer said his party has to be ready for the Conservative Party government to “fall at any time”. He added that he had been working since August to ensure Labour is on election footing - and that over the past years had changed the party to ensure they are ready for government and a “new way of governing”. Some of the examples of change he gave were cracking down on anti-semitism and shifting Labour’s economic approach.

Starmer said when the next election will be is up in the air, but he thinks it should happen as soon as possible.