Labour wants a deal with the EU that's 'pretty much like the current customs union'

Rob Price
emily thornberry labour shadow foreign secretary mp

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  • Labour wants the UK to strike a customs union deal with the EU after Brexit that is "pretty much like the current customs union."
  • Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry shed new light on what Labour wants from the UK's post-Brexit relationship with Europe.
  • Theresa May has "categorically" ruled out staying in a customs union with the EU.

Labour wants the UK to strike a deal with the European Union that is "pretty much like the current customs union," shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has said.

Speaking to LBC Radio on Thursday, the Islington South and Finsbury MP shed significant light on what kind of relationship Labour wants Britain to have with the EU after Brexit — setting the opposition party up for a showdown with the Conservatives over the isuse.

"Technically, because we’re leaving the European Union, we can’t be in the customs union we are in now," Thornberry said. "We leave and then we have to negotiate a new agreement that, we think, is likely to be a customs union that will look pretty much like the current customs union."

A customs union would allow free trade among members (i.e. the UK and the EU), and a common external tariff on trade with non-members (i.e. the rest of the world). It offers some advantages, including its relative simplicity and the fact it could help to deal with the thorny issue of the Irish border — but it could also make it more difficult to strike trade deals outside of the European Union. 

Asked about how it would affect the UK's ability to make trade deals independently of the EU, Thornberry said: "If we were to say to the European Union 'if you want to negotiate with third party countries, we could be connected to that agreement and it would be to the advantage of Europe to have a great, big economy like Britain as part of your negotiations.' But we will need to part of forming those relationships and forming those rules."

Thornberry's remarks come ahead of a keynote Brexit speech by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Monday, and show a clear division between Labour's approach to Brexit and the Conservatives.

Prime Minister Theresa May has previously "categorically" ruled the UK out of any form of customs union with the EU (but has advocated a highly streamlined customs arrangement" or "a new customs partnership"), stressing the need to be able to strike independent trade deals.

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