A shadow minister was unable to set out Labour’s position on Brexit during an uncomfortable radio interview.
Bill Esterson was asked five times by the BBC’s Emma Barnett whether his party would take the UK out of the customs union if it were in power and was unable to give a clear answer.
The shadow international trade minister told Radio 5live that the government’s proposals were “full of contradictions” and said different cabinet members held different views and positions on the issue.
But when asked about his own party’s plans, he said: “Well we certainly need a transitional period, we certainly need to give certainty to business. Our plan is to stand up for businesses and jobs and for the economy.”
He said “nobody could give a definitive answer” on whether the UK will leave the customs union after March 2019 “as it’s subject to negotiation”.
The government has proposed a “customs partnership”, which would see the UK “mirror” EU tariffs on goods coming into Britain, involves an increase of red tape for businesses.
Companies selling goods into Britain would have to pay which ever tariff is higher out of the UK and EU rate, and then claim any money back they are owed at a later date.
But the plans, set out by Brexit secretary David Davis, were rubbished by Labour MP and former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, who is now co-chair of a cross-party Parliamentary group on EU Relations.
He said: “As the Brexit negotiations go forward, it is crucial that Ministers take positions based on realism rather than wishful thinking.
“Unfortunately, such realism is thin on the ground in this position paper.
“They might promise frictionless trade, but they are offering a red tape bombshell for British business.”