In a speech this morning, he said that the party accepts that immigration rules will have to change, but does not agree that the UK needs to completely sever ties with the EU.
Sir Keir said that in seeking a “reformed” relationship with the single market, or customs union, Labour accepted that rules on free movement of workers could not continue as immigration had been such a major factor in the Leave referendum victory.
“We recognise that immigration rules will have to change as we exit the EU, but we do not believe that immigration should be the overarching priority.
It marks an about-turn for the party who are desperately trying to claw back support in traditional heartlands that have moved towards Ukip and Brexit in recent years.
In January, Jeremy Corbyn gave an ambiguous answer when asked about freedom of movement.
“Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out,” he said.
“Changes to the way migration rules operate from the EU will be part of the negotiations.”
While the Liberal Democrats have promised a second referendum and most Labour members backed Remain last year, Starmer conceded that the country will leave the EU. However he said that Labour would not walk away from the bloc without a deal in place.
The party says it could avoid a ‘hard Brexit’, with today’s announcement confirming that it would throw out Theresa May’s current plan completely and focused on leaving ‘options’ on the table.
Mr Starmer made it clear that jobs and the economy are the party’s main focuses for Brexit, and that Labour wants to use the single market as a negotiation tool.
“Whether this is best achieved through reformed membership of the single market and the customs union or via a bespoke trading arrangement is secondary to the outcome,” he said.
“What matters for jobs, the economy and living standards is that we retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union.”
He also made it clear that ‘no deal’ is not an option for the party, saying that would be “the worst possible deal”.
Labour would also guarantee the legal status of EU nationals living in the UK. The party said it will also fight to secure a similar deal for Brits living in EU countries as well as maintaining membership of Erasmus, the European student exchange body.
Labour also wants to replace the Great Repeal Bill, proposed by the current Tory government.
This bill aims to change the EU laws that currently apply to the UK into British laws, leaving the government free to pick and choose the laws that it keeps, amends and repeals.
Instead, Labour wants to bring in an EU Rights and Protections Bill to cover these regulations and laws, adding that it will uphold workplace protections, environmental standards and consumer rights that the country already adheres to as a member of the EU.
Sir Starmer told parliament that he wants to build a close relationship with the EU, “not as members, but as partners”.
With its policy towards the single market and rights for EU nationals laid clear, the party is clearly courting Remain voters who are unhappy with May’s harsh extraction plan.
As for immigration, Starmer also said he had been “clear” that freedom of movement will have to end and immigration rules will have to change.
Immigration is a major issue for many voters, including previous Labour supporters who have fled to UKIP and the Conservatives because both are in favour of clear caps over free movement.
Perhaps this morning’s announcement will go some way towards quelling former Blair henchman Peter Mandelson’s confusion.
When asked what Labour’s position was on Europe, he told BBC’s Newsnight, “Search me.”
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) April 25, 2017