Jeremy Corbyn backs staying in a customs union as he insists Brexit does not ‘spell doom’ for Britain

Jeremy Corbyn speaking in Coventry

Jeremy Corbyn speaking in Coventry

  • Jeremy Corbyn insists that Brexit will be “what we make of it together”.
  • The Labour leader dismisses fears that leaving the European Union will automatically be a “disaster”.
  • He backs staying in a customs union but refuses to commit to staying in the single market, saying it would prevent him from tackling immigration or nationalising industries.
  • However he promises that Labour would seek a “new and strong relationship with the single market”.

LONDON – Jeremy Corbyn today called for Britain to form a new “comprehensive UK-EU customs union” after Brexit, as he set out his party’s new policy on leaving the European Union.

The Labour leader said that it was necessary for Britain to retain close ties to Europe in oreder to prevent a hard border between Ireland and the UK.

“We have long argued that a customs union is a viable option for the final deal. So Labour would seek to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union to ensure that there are no tariffs with Europe and to help avoid any need for a hard border in Northern Ireland,”he said.

However he insisted that any new customs union would “need to ensure the UK has a say in future trade deals” conducted between the EU and other countries and must not leave Britain as mere “rule-takers” from Europe.

Speaking in Coventry on Monday morning, Corbyn also dismissed calls from those in his party demanding that he commit to staying in the single market after Brexit, saying it would prevent him tackling immigration and nationalising industries.

“We cannot be held back, inside or outside the EU, from taking the steps we need to support cutting edge industries and local business, stop the tide of privatisation and outsourcing or prevent employers being able to import cheap agency labour from abroad to undercut existing pay and conditions.”

However, he insisted that Labour would not have a “red line” on reducing levels of immigration.

“We would not do what this government is doing, start from rigid red lines on immigration and then work out what that means for the economy afterwards,” he said.

“As Diane Abbott, our Shadow Home Secretary, set out last week, ‘We do not begin with, ‘how do we reduce immigration?’, and to hell with the consequences. Those are Tory policies and Tory values’.”

The Labour leader said that a British government under his leadership would negotiate a “bespoke” deal that would allow him to fulfill his promises to nationalise certain industries and public utilities.

“That new relationship would need to ensure we can deliver our ambitious economic programme, take the essential steps to upgrade and transform our economy, and build an economy for the 21st century that works for the many, not the few.

“So we would also seek to negotiate protections, clarifications or exemptions, where necessary, in relation to privatisation and public service competition directives, state aid and procurement rules and the posted workers directive.”

He also said those who insisted that Brexit would “inevitably spell doom” for Britain or that it would create a “land of milk and honey” were both wide of the mark.

“There will be some who will tell you that Brexit is a disaster for this country and some who will tell you that Brexit will create a land of milk and honey,” he said.

“The truth is more down to earth and it’s in our hands: Brexit is what we make of it together,”

Dismissing hardliners on either side of the Brexit argument, he added: “The European Union is not the root of all our problems and leaving it will not solve all our problems. Likewise, the EU is not the source of all enlightenment and leaving it does not inevitably spell doom for our country.”

A new single market relationship

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell

Corbyn’s speech comes ahead of the prime minister’s own speech on the subject due to take place on Friday.

In an attempt to distinguish his own party’s position from the Conservative government, which remains committed to cutting all ties with the EU customs union and single market, Corbyn insisted that Labour would now back a “new and strong relationship with the single market” whereby Britain would continue to follow EU trade rules.

“Every country that is geographically close to the EU without being an EU member state, whether it’s Turkey, Switzerland, or Norway, has some sort of close relationship to the EU, some more advantageous than others,” he said.

“Britain will need a bespoke relationship of its own. Labour would negotiate a new and strong relationship with the single market that includes full tariff-free access and a floor under existing rights, standards and protections.”

Corbyn’s speech follows a series of interventions from senior Labour figures in which they suggested that Labour would back Britain forming a new customs union with the EU.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry told LBC last week that the party wanted a new customs relationship with the EU that was “pretty much the same” as the old one, while the Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer hinted on Sunday that Labour would back a rebel Conservative amendment designed to keep Britain in a customs union after Brexit.

Corbyn’s speech sparked a backlash in the Brexit-supporting press on Monday with the Daily Mail splashing on a front page accusing the Labour leaderof a “Brexit betrayal” and the Sun mocking up a picture of Corbyn as a rat.

Several papers also highlighted criticism of the speech in advance from the dozen or so prominent Brexit-supporting MPs in the Labour parliamentary party.

Labour MP Frank Field said his party’s Brexit position would cause them to lose “swathes of seats in the north to the Tories”.