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LONDON – Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer says Labour will call on Monday for the UK to be in a customs union with the EU once it leaves, a move which would smooth the Irish border issue but limit Britain’s ability to strike its own free trade deals with other countries.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Labour’s Brexit secretary Kier Starmer said being in a customs union with the EU was neccessary to secure tariff-free access to the EU once it leaves the bloc.
— The Andrew Marr Show (@MarrShow) February 25, 2018
“We’ve long championed being in a customs union with the EU and the benefits of that,” he said.
“It’s the only way to get tariff-free access, it’s really important for our manufacturing base, and nobody can answer your question of how you keep your commitment to [having] no hard border in Northern Ireland without a customs union.
“Crunch time is coming for the Prime Minister. The majority in parliament needs to be heard and it will be heard sooner or later,” he added.
Starmer indicated that Labour would support amendments to a key Brexit bill tabled by rebel Tory MPs Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke which puts customs membership back on the table.
A customs union would allow free trade among members (i.e. the UK and the EU), and a common external tariff on trade with non-members (i.e. the rest of the world). It offers some advantages, including its relative simplicity and the fact it could help to deal with the thorny issue of the Irish border – but it could also make it more difficult to strike trade deals outside of the European Union.
Prime Minister Theresa May has previously “categorically” ruled the UK out of any form of customs union with the EU (ut has advocated a highly streamlined customs arrangement” or “a new customs partnership”), stressing the need to be able to strike independent trade deals.