The EU is “open to” Labour’s Brexit policy of renegotiating the Brexit agreement to include a customs union and single market membership, Leo Varadkar has said.
Asked about the Labour manifesto the Irish leader told public broadcaster RTE that the bloc would be “very happy” with sitting down with “whoever is prime minister” and that the opposition’s policy would not be a problem.
“Whoever is in government in the UK in a few weeks’ time, whoever is prime minister, we will be happy to sit down with them, listen to what they say and work with them and, in a hypothetical scenario, if a UK government wants to talk about a customs union with the EU, or closer alignment with the single market, that’s something we’ve always been open to, something we’d be very happy to talk to the UK government about,” he said.
The Labour manifesto unveiled on Thursday commits the party to a Final Say referendum, with voters given the choice between remaining and leaving with a renegotiated deal. The party says the vote would be held within six months of taking office in an attempt to put the issue to bed and focus on other things.
Mr Corbyn and his Brexit chief Keir Starmer say the Labour government’s renegotiated deal would include a customs union and close alignment with EU single market rules – keeping Britain far closer in the EU’s orbit than Boris Johnson’s plans for a basic free trade agreement.
Mr Varadkar, who was speaking after the manifesto launch, added: “Let’s see how the election goes. What I think we can be assured of is, we can say to the people of Ireland, there won’t be a hard border between north and south, and the Common Travel Area, and everything that goes with it will be protected.
“The only outcome which would be problematic would be another hung parliament, in which case we may be back in a situation where we have a House of Commons which wouldn’t be able to ratify any agreement.”
The taoiseach said on Wednesday that the kind of future trade deal proposed by Boris Johnson would take longer to finalise than the kind of close alignment suggested by Labour.
Despite the Brexit drama of the last few months the issue has somewhat taken a back seat in the election campaign so far. An Ipsos MORI issues tracker released earlier this week found the NHS overtaking Britain’s departure from the EU as the main vote-deciding issue.
Mr Corbyn announced on Thursday that the pledged referendum would be “legally binding” – countering Brexiteer claims that a confirmatory vote held next year would lead to endless reruns of the 2016 referendum, which was advisory.
Labour’s policy document rules out a no-deal Brexit if the party wins the 12 December election and warns that a majority Tory government would “pose a renewed threat of the UK crashing out with no deal”. But Mr Corbyn has not said whether he would campaign in favour of Leave or Remain during the referendum, suggesting he will wait until the deal is negotiated.
To applause, Mr Corbyn told an audience at Birmingham City University: “If you watched the debate you’ll have heard Boris Johnson claim he’ll get Brexit done, over and over again. That claim is a fraud on the British people.
“His sell-out deal will be just the beginning of years of drawn-out, bogged-down negotiations and broken promises.
“Three years, maybe more, according to the EU negotiator Michel Barnier. And his toxic deal with Donald Trump will take even longer.
“With Labour it will be very different. We will get Brexit sorted within six months, because we’re not going to rip up our main trading relationship.
“We’ll secure a sensible deal that protects manufacturing and the Good Friday Agreement, and then put it to a public vote alongside the option of remaining in the EU.
“So if you want to leave without trashing our economy or selling out our NHS, you’ll be able to vote for it. If you want to remain, you’ll be able to vote for that. Let’s take this out of the hands of politicians and give the British people the final say.”
The Labour manifesto denounces Mr Johnson’s deal as “even worse than Theresa May’s”, warning: “It would leave the UK £70bn worse off by 2029; it would give the green light to deregulation undermining UK manufacturing; and it would leave our NHS at the mercy of a trade deal with Donald Trump.”
But Conservative minister Brandon Lewis said: “The publication of Labour’s manifesto has just confirmed what we already knew, Jeremy Corbyn simply doesn’t have a plan for Brexit. And without a plan to get Brexit done he has no credibility on anything else.
“Corbyn’s Labour can’t win a majority, so his only chance of getting into power is to do a deal with Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP. That would mean that 2020 would be lost to the chaos of another two referendums – one on Brexit and another on Scottish independence.”