Britain’s Labour ‘to back staying’ in new EU customs union

Brexit policy chief’s comments come after senior figures warn Corbyn over leaving single market

Senior figures in Labour have written to leader Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Senior figures in Labour have written to leader Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA Wire


Britain’s Labour Party will support remaining in a customs union with the European Union after Brexit, according to senior figure Sir Keir Starmer.

The shadow Brexit secretary warned it was now “crunch time” for Theresa May over her approach to the customs union, and said it would be “better” to reach “bold” new trade agreements by working with the EU.

Mr Starmer said Labour had “long championed being in a customs union with the EU and the benefits”.

He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “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.”

He said Labour had had “many weeks of discussion unanimously” and had agreed to develop their policy, to be announced by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Monday.

“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.

“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.”

Mr Starmer said Britain was more likely to strike new deals if it works “jointly with the EU”, adding: “We all want to do bold new trade agreements but we would be better off doing that with the EU.”

Mr Starmer’s comments were made ahead of a speech by Mr Corbyn when he is expected to clarify the party’s position on Brexit.

More than 80 senior figures from across the Labour Party have signed a statement warning Mr Corbyn that key policies would be unaffordable if the United Kingdom leaves the single market.

As well as hitting funding for schools, hospitals and social care, leaving the single market would also raise the prospect of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that would threaten the Belfast Agreement, the letter says.

The statement has exposed Labour’s internal divisions on how to proceed with Brexit on the eve of a speech by Mr Corbyn setting out the party’s approach.

Issued to the Observer, the letter signed by 37 MPs, 12 peers and a number of union leaders demands the party commits to maintaining access to the single market by remaining part of the European Economic Area.

“Given the parliamentary arithmetic and the numbers of parliamentarians from other parties - including Conservative backbenchers - who have indicated they will join us in this endeavour, our country’s continued participation in a customs union and the single market is now in the Labour Party’s hands,” the letter says.

“For the sake of building a better Britain and safeguarding those our party was founded to protect, we must grab this chance before it is too late. We will never be forgiven if we fail to do so.”

The Labour Campaign for the Single Market includes MPs Chuka Umunna, Heidi Alexander and Alison McGovern and peers Baroness Lawrence and Lord Kinnock, former leader of the party. - PA