Corbyn weaponises Labour’s Brexit policy by pledging new EU customs deal

Keir Starmer discussing Brexit. Picture: BBC
Keir Starmer discussing Brexit. Picture: BBC
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Jeremy Corbyn will confirm his support for staying in a customs union with the EU and building a “new and strong relationship with the single market” in a speech bringing Labour’s Brexit policy into focus.

The opposition leader will say that “leaving the EU does not inevitably spell doom for our country”, recommitting his party to delivering Brexit while drawing clear dividing lines between Labour and the Conservatives that will put the Theresa May under new pressure.

Yesterday Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said it was “crunch time” for the Prime Minister on the customs union, and said it would be “better” for the UK to reach “bold” new trade agreements with other countries by working with the EU, rather than striking out with an independent trade policy.

Mr Starmer signalled support for cross-party amendments to the Trade Bill put forward by Tory rebel Anna Soubry, who has warned she has enough support to force the government to form a customs union with Brussels after Brexit.

Speaking in Coventry today, Mr Corbyn will say: “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.

“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.”

However, pushing back against critics calling for him to go further and embrace full membership of the single market, Mr Corbyn will add: “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.

“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.”

In an open letter, 80 senior Labour figures yesterday called for Mr Corbyn to deliver a soft Brexit, including Frank McAveety and Cammy Day, the party’s group leaders in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Scotland on Sunday also revealed that ten of Scotland’s 73 local parties are mounting a bid to force Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard to adopt a pro-single market stance.

And writing in Scotland on Sunday, Scottish Labour’s most senior MP Ian Murray warned both leaders that the party would “never be forgiven” if didn’t fight for a soft Brexit.

Mr Starmer said Labour had “long championed being in a customs union with the EU and the benefits”.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Starmer said most MPs want to stay in the customs union “and the majority in Parliament needs to be heard and it will be heard sooner rather than later”.

Mrs May will hold a special Cabinet meeting on Thursday ahead of her keynote speech on Britain’s exit from the EU in the North East the next day.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox urged Tory Remainers to keep an “open mind” and said the Prime Minister’s speech would deal with their fears.

Tory former leader Iain Duncan Smith warned potential rebels to “be very careful on this one, because you’re being invited into a Labour party tactical game which will actually end up in real damage to the UK.”

Labour MP Frank Field, who backed Leave, said remaining in a customs union or the single market would be a “deceit” and dismissed suggestions that Ms Soubry could defeat the government.

“It’s all hype. The Government’s got a majority on this. The idea Anna Soubry is going to lead all these people into the Labour lobby is just fairytales.”