Jeremy Corbyn set out Labour’s position on Brexit (PA)
- Jeremy Corbyn sets out new Brexit vision for Labour
- He would push for final deal that would include full access to European markets
- …and maintain the benefits of the single market and the customs union
- Corbyn speech given guarded praise by business leaders
- But Tories accuse him of betraying Brexit voters
In a speech in Coventry, the Labour leader said the UK must have its own version of the deals other neighbouring countries such as Norway and Turkey have to access the internal trading bloc.
And though Mr Corbyn drew some – guarded – praise from business leaders, Tory Brexiteers were quick to attack him, with Boris Jonson branding the speech ‘cynical and deluded CBI’.
Boris Johnson said Britain would be reduced to a “colony” of Brussels by Labour’s plans for a post-Brexit customs union with the EU.
The Foreign Secretary accused Mr Corbyn of raising a “white flag” on Brexit in order to try to defeat the Government in an upcoming Commons vote on remaining in a customs union.
Crumbling Corbyn betrays Leave voters – and all because he wants to win a commons vote. Cynical and deluded.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) February 26, 2018
Corbyn’s Brexit plan would leave U.K. a colony of the EU – unable to take back control of our borders or our trade policy. White flag from labour before talks even begin.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) February 26, 2018
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said Mr Corbyn was seeking to frustrate Brexit.
He said: “This is a cynical attempt by Labour to try and frustrate the Brexit process and play politics with our country’s future – all the while, betraying millions of Labour voters.
However, Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI director-General, said Labour’s approach would put ‘jobs and business first by remaining in a close economic relationship with the EU’.
Stephen Martin, Director General of the Institute of Directors, said ‘many businesses, particularly manufacturers, will be pleased to hear the opposition’s proposal to keep a customs union on the table’.
Mr Corbyn, who has faced criticism for not making Labour’s position clear on Brexit, also said that existing single market rights, standards and protections would be accepted by Labour.
But it would negotiate protections and exemptions that could help workers and industry, such as changing state aid restrictions to allow governments to intervene to help struggling sectors.
Brexit Secretary David Davis said Mr Corbyn’s plans breached the promises he made at the General Election and accused him of selling ‘snake oil’.
Labour’s ‘jobs first’ approach would include measures to stop employers being able to import cheap agency labour from abroad to undercut workers’ pay.
Mr Corbyn said: ‘Every country that is geographically close to the EU without being an EU member state, whether it’s Turkey, Switzerland, or Norway, has some sort of close relationship to the EU, some more advantageous than others.
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‘Britain will need a bespoke relationship of its own. 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.
‘So 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.’
The Labour leader’s comments are set to upset some in the party who want the UK to remain in the single market.
A letter backed by more than 80 senior figures warned the leader his plans for investment in schools, hospitals and social care would be unfundable unless the UK stays in the internal market.
But Mr Corbyn set out how Labour would commit to the UK being part of a customs union.
Labour has had ‘many weeks of discussion unanimously’ and agreed to develop its policy, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said.
He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: ‘The customs arrangements at the moment are hardwired into the membership treaty so I think everybody now recognises there’s going to have to be a new treaty – it will do the work of the customs union.’
Prime Minister Theresa May has ruled out membership of the single market or customs union after Brexit, a move that has angered Tory Remainers.
Mr Corbyn said leaving the European Union does not mean Britain is inevitably doomed.
He said: ‘The European Union is not the root of all our problems and leaving it will not solve all our problems.
‘Likewise, the EU is not the source of all enlightenment and leaving it does not inevitably spell doom for our country.
‘There will be some who will tell you that Brexit is a disaster for this country and some who will tell you that Brexit will create a land of milk and honey. The truth is more down-to-earth and it’s in our hands: Brexit is what we make of it together.’
Responding to Mr Corbyn’s speech, former Ukip leader Nigel Farage described the proposals as ‘the first step of a complete Labour sellout on the issue’.
He said: ‘Governments don’t negotiate trade deals, the European Commission (EC) negotiates trade deals.
‘If you’re part of a customs union you will not be involved in that.”
‘What [EC negotiator] Michel Barnier will say is “you now need to go further on the single market”.
‘The next big Labour speech on this will be that we’ll be inextricably linked to ‘a’ single market not ‘the’ single market.’
Mr Farage added: ’Labour voters will start to ask “are we really leaving?”’
“It’s the first step of a – quite easy to see – a complete Labour sellout on the issue” @nigel_farage predicting: “Labour voters are going to start to ask: Are we really leaving?” #bbcdp pic.twitter.com/tcS2N9TzCz
— BBC Daily Politics and Sunday Politics (@daily_politics) February 26, 2018
In an article for The Daily Telegraph, David Davis said Labour’s plans would stop the UK from signing free trade deals with other countries around the world.
He added: ‘Labour may think they have stumbled across a simple solution to Brexit, but there is a lesson they are yet to learn: if it looks like snake oil, and it smells like snake oil, don’t expect it to make you feel better.’
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘A customs union with the EU is a welcome step. It’s right to acknowledge the benefits the UK gets from being part of the single market – and to seek to protect those benefits into the future.’