25/02/2018 12:19 GMT

Sunday Show Round-Up: Customs Unions And Useful Idiots

All you need to know from the weekend in politics

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Brexit and the Customs Union

Keir Starmer made his party’s position very clear on the Andrew Marr Show - Labour is fully behind A Customs Union - and said it was approaching “crunch time” for Theresa May over the issue. 

The shadow Brexit secretary told the programme: “Obviously it’s the only way of realistically to get tariff free access, it’s really important for our manufacturing base and nobody can answer the question how you keep your commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland without a customs union.” 

Starmer said in an ideal world, any new body would perform the same function at the current customs union - members of which are bound by EU rules.

“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,” he added.

“It’s a customs union, that’s what the CBI are saying now, it’s what the various amendments are now all saying - there’s going to have to be a new agreement, but will it do the work of the current customs union? Yes, that’s the intention.”

Various amendments to the Brexit bill aimed at forcing Theresa May’s hand have been tabled, including one by Tory backbencher Anna Soubry - Labour support for which Starmer did not rule out.

“We will have to make final decision on whether it’s our amendment or a cross-party one [that is taken forward],” he said.

His position was shared by deputy leader Tom Watson, who appeared on Peston on Sunday, and with shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner on Pienaar’s Politics.

But backbencher Frank Field was less convinced on BBC Sunday Politics, claiming his party leader had changed his mind on the EU.

His Brexiteer colleague Kate Hoey told Sky’s Niall Paterson she did not believe Corbyn’s planned speech on Monday would reveal any big shift in Labour’s position.

International trade secretary Liam Fox said the government was hoping to talk its party rebels round and persuade them of “the merits of the argument”.

Fox added that he wanted to take talks on trade deals “as far as we possibly can”, but did not confirm whether any would be ready in time for the end of the Brexit transitional period. 

Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said the government was working towards securing a good deal for the UK.  

Jeremy Corbyn and Ben Bradley

Tory vice-chair Ben Bradley was forced to apologise profusely to Jeremy Corbyn this week after he claimed the Labour leader “sold secrets” to communist spies. 

Fox agreed his colleague was right to say sorry, but claimed Corbyn and his colleagues had been unhelpful to the UK’s cause during the Cold War era, describing them as “useful idiots” for the Soviet Union.

His position was shared by Andrea Leadsom.

Bradley has promised to donate damages to a charity of Corbyn’s choice to avoid the Labour leader launching a libel action against him.


Meanwhile, Leadsom is continuing to lead on tackling sexual harassment and bullying in Parliament, after a survey revealed a fifth of all staff had experienced or witnessed incidents.

She also talked about her own experience with disgraced former defence secretary Michael Fallon - albeit reluctantly.

Northern Ireland

Issues in Belfast are rumbling on, with Westminster DUP leader Nigel Dodds claiming a budget must be agreed in the next fornight. 

The government is effectively being run by civil servants currently.

“It’s in the interests of everyone to have ministerial decisions being taken,” he said.

Dodds also called on Sinn Fein to take their seats in Parliament.

Labour rifts

There’s been a fair bit of drama in the Labour camp in recent days, with the departure of general secretary Iain McNicol and the possibility of the return of Ken Livingstone to the party following suspension over anti-Semitism.  

Shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti told Paterson she condemned Livingstone’s behaviour, but his future membership was not for her to decide.

Keir Starmer dodged a similar line of questioning from Marr, telling the presenter he had “a lot of other things on his plate” and had not considered next steps for the former Mayor of London.

Meanwhile, Watson wished McNicol well. 

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