Labour has declared its support for agreeing a customs union with the EU after Brexit, to open a clear dividing line with the Government’s approach.

The party’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer confirmed Labour want a new treaty with Brussels that “will do the work” of the UK’s current membership of the EU’s customs union.

Jeremy Corbyn will announce the shift in Labour’s Brexit policy during a speech on Monday, following “many weeks of discussion” within the party, Sir Keir added.

The move will pile pressure on the Prime Minister, with Sir Keir suggesting Labour could now back an attempt by Tory rebels to force the Government into agreeing a similar position.

So far, Theresa May has ruled out entering any form of customs union with the EU after Brexit, as she faces demands from her Leave-supporting MPs not to hinder the UK’s ability to pursue an independent trade policy after quitting the bloc.

Tory Remainer Anna Soubry is attempting to force the Government’s hand

Sir Keir claimed Labour had “long championed being in a customs union with the EU and the benefits of that”.

“It’s really important for our manufacturing base and nobody can answer the question how you keep your commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland without a customs union,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

Sir Keir said Labour had “unanimously” agreed at a meeting last week to “develop” their Brexit policy.

He said: “It’s a customs union… there’s going to have to be a new agreement, but will it do the work of the current customs union? Yes, that’s the intention.”

Sir Keir admitted Labour’s position means it will have to be “negotiated” as to who is in control of Britain’s trade policy after Brexit.

He said: “We will have to have a say but the real point is – because we all want trade agreements, we all want more trade agreements – are we more likely to get them if we do it jointly with the EU or on our own?

“All the evidence suggests more likely if we do it with the EU and the cost-benefit analysis of coming out of the customs union and having new trade agreements just isn’t borne out.”

Cabinet ministers met at Chequers to thrash out a Brexit strategy
Cabinet ministers met at Chequers to thrash out a Brexit strategy last week

Tory Remainer Anna Soubry has tabled a cross-party amendment to the Trade Bill in an attempt to compel the Government to retain a customs union with the EU after leaving the bloc.

Heightening the prospect of a parliamentary defeat on the issue for Mrs May, Sir Keir suggested Labour could back Ms Soubry’s move.

However, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox hinted the Prime Minister’s own speech on Brexit this week could appease potential Conservative rebels.

It follows an away-day of Mrs May’s Brexit “war Cabinet” last week, where they thrashed out the UK’s approach to the next phase of Brexit negotiations.

Dr Fox said: “We sat down with those differing views, we set out the issues, we looked at the options and we came to an agreement that we are all happy with.”

Asked what his message would be to Tory Remainers, he added: “I hope that they will have an open mind and listen to what the Prime Minister says because I think that what the Prime Minister will set out will deal with a lot of the reservations that they have.”

Labour MP: Brexit is a great opportunity

Former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, who is among those Tory MPs supporting Ms Soubry’s amendment, insisted remaining in a customs union with the EU is “perfectly possible”.

She told ITV this would mean “we don’t have to have a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland” but – if the UK followed a Turkey-style customs agreement with the EU – Britain would still be able to “negotiate free trade agreements in relation to many other different areas”.

Yet, Mrs May is not the only party leader now facing pressure over the issue of a post-Brexit customs union.

Labour Brexiteer Kate Hoey expressed concern backing a customs union with the EU would mean the party “going into the next election saying we don’t want to have our own trade policy”.

She told Sky News’ Sunday with Niall Paterson: “I don’t understand how we can have a customs union that would still give us the freedom to be able to make our own trade deals.

“When you think how long it’s taken the EU to get trade deals, they still haven’t got them with China, with America.”

Ms Hoey suggested a “growing group of people” are now trying to find a way where the UK will leave the EU “in name only”.

Source link