Keir Starmer’s persona may not be the most lively, but that doesn’t seem to have turned off UK voters determined to end the Conservatives’ 14-year rule in Parliament.

The latest polls gave him a significant lead despite scant details on how he intends to deliver on the promise of sustainable growth and salvage Britain’s economy, still reeling under the effects of Brexit.

Starmer, 61, who opposed Brexit, conspicuously remained quiet on whether he would revisit the 2016 referendum to leave the EU throughout much of the election campaign, ultimately ruling out a return to the customs union and a single market.

“There are a lot of things he hasn’t mentioned that need addressing,” Dimitri Zenghelis, an economist and Brexit expert at the London School of Economics, told DW. “Its going to be a heck of a lot harder” for Starmer to grow the economy if the United Kingdom remains out of the European Union and its single market, he added.

The general sense is that Starmer refrained from discussing the impact of Brexit on the campaign trail to gain the votes of conservatives annoyed with the Tories over myriad crises. Long lines for basic health checks and high cost of living topped that list.

“After plunging the country into an economic crisis, the conservatives handed Starmer a Ming vase. All he had to do was carry it safely to the other side of the ice rink,” said Mike Galsworthy, chair of the European Movement UK, which campaigns for better ties with the EU.

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“That’s why he didn’t bring up Brexit,” he added, implying Starmer was already leading in ratings and didn’t want to raise an issue that could backfire and hurt his chances. However, Galsworthy believes that pressure from businesses, economists and those who voted against leaving the EU in 2016 may eventually persuade him to address the issue.

“Labor may have set red lines,” Galsworthy said in reference to an explicit refusal to rejoin the single market, “but these lines will come under pressure from various groups as people ask for answers and a higher standard of life.”

Will Starmer come under pressure to reconsider Brexit?

Many believe realignment with the EU is imperative for Britain to improve its economy.

While there are various estimates of the extent of damage caused by Brexit, there is no dispute that it increased paperwork and costs for British businesses, and decreased trade between the UK and its biggest trading partner.

According to Britain’s National Institute of Economic and Social Research, since Brexit, the size of the British economy has reduced by 2-3%, and the impact is expected to rise to 5-6% by 2035.

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A Cambridge Econometrics study commissioned by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, also a Labor politician, found that by 2035, Brexit will have reduced investment in the UK by a third, resulting in 3 million fewer jobs.

According to accountancy firm Menzies, one in five British businesses want the new government to return to the single market. The British Chambers of Commerce claimed that two-thirds of British firms that traded with the EU last year found the processes cumbersome, and almost half disagreed that the Brexit deal had helped them grow. On the contrary, 41% said the deal made it difficult to buy and sell goods with EU member countries.

“Leaving the EU has made it more expensive and bureaucratic to sell our goods and services across the Channel,” Shevaun Haviland, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said at the annual conference of the lobbying group which represents thousands of British businesses. “We must stop walking on eggshells and start saying it how it is.”

But judging by the British public’s palpable sensitivities about freedom of movement and the oversight of the European Court of Justice, Starmer is unlikely to be adventurous and will aim for low-hanging fruit.

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Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King’s College London and director of UK in a Changing Europe, a think tank, said there will be “no major overhaul” of the existing relationship. “He wants very little,” he said of Starmer. .

What does Starmer want, and what can he get?

The Labor Party seeks to improve the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement signed by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in late 2020. Among the relatively uncontroversial changes it seeks is a veterinary deal to reduce paperwork and border checks on animal products and mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

Labour’s manifesto also calls for a new UK-EU defense pact, with an eye on collective security but also on the European Defense Fund. “If the UK concludes a broader defense and security agreement with the EU, full participation in EU defense-procurement initiatives, such as the European Defense Fund, could also be unlocked,” said a recent paper from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

Not everyone believes Brussels will agree. “On the economic side of defense,” said Menon, “I am not sure the EU is going to play ball.”

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Furthermore, the Tory government was already in the crosshairs with Brussels last year when it tried to sign bilateral deals on youth mobility with selected European countries. This past April, the European Commission protested against differential treatment of Europeans and offered its own version of a youth mobility program.

The EU suggested that young people aged 18 to 30 could “travel, work and live in the UK, with reciprocity for young UK nationals in a Member State” for up to four years. It said the EU would be open to discussing the UK’s return to Erasmus+ — a scheme that has offered student exchanges and apprenticeships to the youth since the late 1980s. However, it pointed out that the “current UK government has not expressed an interest in joining.”

The conservative government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rejected the proposal at the time, and Labor did not disagree. London Mayor Khan has said he will push for the youth mobility program between the UK and EU, and Starmer has said he will look into visa-free travel for musicians and artists from the UK to EU.

Melanie Vogelbach, head of international economic policy at the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the EU and the UK should cooperate since “the regulatory divergence between the British regulatory framework and EU law” will continue to create new trade barriers.

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But when it comes to big-ticket items, the EU isn’t ready to offer major concessions.

“The UK can’t enjoy the benefits of a single market if it isn’t in it,” an industry insider in Europe told DW. “This can set a bad precedent, and in a bloc of 27, we can’t afford it.”

Galsworthy of the European Movement UK said once artists started moving to and fro, adding pressure for others to have that right, and the UK and the EU are seen to be actively building a defense against Russia, the optics will change the public outlook and make room for Starmer to gradually undo Brexit, should he wish.

Starmer’s wishes aside, as protectionism picks up pace, the EU may not oblige. Analysts believe Brussels also has no appetite for that arduous journey once again.