LONDON – Labour would take the UK into a “new single market” deal with the European Union and could stay in a “form of customs union” after Brexit, Sir Keir Starmer has said.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary said at the party’s conference in Brighton on Monday that the party “would build a new progressive partnership with the EU,” if it were in government.
Starmer said Labour want a deal with the EU that “retained the benefits of the customs union and the single market.”
On the customs union and single market, the shadow Brexit secretary said: “Subject, of course to negotiations, remaining in a form of customs union with the EU is a possible end destination for Labour.
“We are also flexible as to whether the benefits of the single market are best retained by negotiating a new single market relationship or by working up from a bespoke trade deal. No rash, ideological red lines preventing a sensible deal. No fantastical, ‘blue sky’ proposals.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously said that Labour membership of the single market will end once Britain leaves the EU.
In August, Starmer announced that a Labour government would keep the UK in the single market and customs union during a transition period, and left the door open for Labour to back remaining inside the single market after Brexit.
Deputy leader Tom Watson has also suggested that staying in the single market “might be a permanent outcome of negotiations.”
However, Corbyn said that the UK should stay in the single market “for as short as possible” but “as long as necessary” during a transition period.
‘Labour are now the grown-ups in the room’
Starmer claimed on Monday that Theresa May had adopted Labour’s position on a transition period after the prime minister said in Florence on Friday that she wants an implementation period of about two years during which the UK would remain in EU institutions.
However, the shadow Brexit secretary also hinted that the stance might not last beyond the Conservative conference in Manchester next week.
He said: “So dysfunctional had it [the government’s Brexit policy] all become, that the prime minister had to fly to Florence on Friday, only to accept Labour’s position on transitional arrangements. Let’s see if that survives contact with Tory party conference.”
Starmer said Labour was presenting “a pragmatic approach.”
He said: “Labour are now the grown-ups in the room. We stand ready to take charge of the negotiations. Not acting for narrow political gain. But in the national interest.”
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said: “Starmer happily condemns the Tories for a lack of vision on Brexit, but the reality is Labour is just as clueless.It is misleading for him to pretend that some new customs arrangement can be reached which doesn’t cause massive disruption to British trade.”
Conservative Brexit minister Steve Baker commented: “Keir Starmer’s speech shows Labour have no plan for Brexit, no interest in controlling our borders and no desire to make the most of the opportunities it will bring.”