B I G P I C T U R E
Jeremy Corbyn has sought to clarify Labour’s position on Brexit. The party now supports keeping the UK in a customs union with the EU. It does not support single market membership, which includes the free movement of people from the EU. And while Labour does not currently back holding a referendum on the eventual deal, it remains “open” to the idea. The Labour leader confirmed his position in a speech on Monday, the main points of which are:
K E Y P O I N T S
Jeremy Corbyn has confirmed Labour supports keeping the UK in a customs union with the EU - creating a clear dividing line with Theresa May and the Conservatives.
The Labour leader said as 44% of UK exports are to EU countries and 50% of UK imports come from the EU, trade between the UK and EU after Brexit must remain tariff-free.
Countries in a customs union agree to impose the same tariffs on goods from outside the bloc and those goods can then be moved around internally within the group without further tariffs.
Theresa May has ruled out staying in any form of customs union - arguing it would prevent the UK from negotiating its own independent free trade deals.
But Jeremy Corbyn said today Labour would aim to negotiate a customs union arrangement with Brussels that would give the UK a “say” on trade deals negotiated by the EU on Britain’s behalf.
He said ‘Britain will need a bespoke, negotiated relationship of its own’.
Theresa May could be defeated in the Commons on the issue if pro-EU Tory rebels and Labour join forces to vote in favour an amendment to the Trade Bill.
Brexit secretary David Davis has accused Labour of ‘serious breaches’ of its manifesto.
Trade secretary Liam Fox said Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal would leave the UK ‘unable to sign up to comprehensive free trade deals’.
80 senior Labour figures, including Chuka Umunna and Lord Kinnock, have demanded Jeremy Corbyn go even further and commit the party to keeping the UK inside the single market.
S N A P V E R D I C T
From HuffPost Deputy Political Editor Owen Bennett
It was trailed as a game-changing Brexit speech from Jeremy Corbyn, and within the long address from the Labour leader there was a word which has shifted the dial: comprehensive.
Corbyn’s vow for the UK to be in a “comprehensive” customs union with the EU means Britain will not be able to operate its own trade policies with other countries. Yet by being out of the political structures of the EU, the UK will have no say on the trade deals negotiated by Brussels.
The Labour leader, in a spirit of hope more than expectation, believes the EU will take on board the UK’s view when it comes to future negotiations. But why would Brussels throwaway a trade deal which all 27 of its members agree just because the UK does not support it? This is just as much ‘have your cake and eat it too’ as the Government’s ambitions for Brexit.
For all the talk of trade, many voters were motivated by immigration in the EU referendum. Here, Labour offered more fudge than cake. There was no suggestion that net migration would fall after Brexit, but an acknowledgment there needs to be a “reasonable management of migration”. That line could well be sold on the doorsteps of Leave voters, as it suggests the taking back of control of immigration policy.
Aside from the policy, this was an address dripping in politics. Corbyn, who delivered the speech with much of the same enthusiasm with which he campaigned in the 2016 referendum, really came to life when he attacked global elites, inequality and those who feel left behind.
That shows that for the Labour leader, the party’s Brexit position is a means to an end. Not to get a particular kind of deal with Brussels, but to get him into Downing Street.
The question now is whether Tory MPs who also back the UK staying in a customs union with the EU can find a way of supporting Labour in the Commons without ousting their own party from Government.
K E Y Q U O T E
Labour would seek to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union to ensure that there are no tariffs with Europe and to help avoid any need for a hard border in Northern Ireland. Jeremy Corbyn
W H A T N E X T
Theresa May is due to deliver a major Brexit speech on Friday. The Cabinet will hold a special meeting on Thursday morning to discuss her speech.
But the crunch moment will come when the government’s trade bill returns to the Commons - a date for this has not yet been set.
Labour has tabled amendments to the legislation that would keep the UK in a customs union.
Pro-EU Tory rebels led by Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke have also tabled their own amendments which would force the same.
If pro-customs union Tory MPs and Labour join forces, the government could be defeated.
Asked whether a defeat for Theresa May would trigger a general election, Labour’s shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said: ’I don’t know what it would lead to. I don’t think anybody does.”