Owen Smith has said he could apply to take the UK back into the European Union if he was Prime Minister – and potentially sign the country up to the euro and the Schengen open borders zone.
The Labour leadership hopeful said if the country had broken from Brussels by the time he takes office he would be prepared to reapply to join the EU.
Mr Smith said he would fight a general election making a “really strong case for us to stay” in the EU, but if the country had already left then “hypothetically” he could apply for the UK to rejoin.
Theresa May has said she will not trigger Article 50 – which begins the formal two-year exit period – before the end of the year, but if she were to take the step next year the UK would leave in 2019, before the next scheduled election.
Although formal negotiations on the Brexit terms cannot be thrashed out until Article 50 is invoked, Mr Smith disputed that and said Mrs May must reveal her plan.
“If she were to trigger Article 50 before the British public knows what the real Brexit deal is, I think that would be dereliction of duty on her part,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. Asked if he would try to re-enter the EU after Brexit if he was in Number 10 following the 2020 general election, Mr Smith said: “If we had gone into a further recession, if we had the prospect of another ten years of Tory austerity, if they were saying that the price of our staying out is opening up the NHS to private sector competition… then I think the sensible and responsible thing for a Labour government to do is to say we are better off in the European Union.”
Asked whether, as a new member, the UK could be obliged to sign up to the single currency and the Schengen Area, Mr Smith said that would “potentially” be the case.
Many of Labour’s former industrial heartlands voted for Brexit but Mr Smith insisted that they could be persuaded to back his policy. “I think people in those northern cities don’t want more reductions in their livelihoods,” he said.
Jeremy Corbyn remains the clear favourite to win the leadership contest when the result is announced on 24 September, but Mr Smith said: “You can’t mistake mass rallies for a mass movement.”
Deputy Labour leader John McDonnell said he wanted Mr Smith to return to the shadow cabinet if Mr Corbyn wins the election as he predicted the deeply divided party would unite after the contest. “What I hope happens at the end of this election campaign, that phrase ‘what’s said on tour, remains on tour’ I think will apply,” he said.