Labour pledges to guarantee right of EU nationals to remain in UK

Spokesman attempts to bring clarity on party’s Brexit policy

Labour has promised to try to keep Britain inside the EU customs union after Brexit, even if that makes negotiating new bilateral trade deals around the world impossible.

The party's Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, said Britain should unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals now living in the country, while fighting to secure reciprocal rights for British citizens living in the EU.

Sir Keir made the commitments in a speech in London aimed at bringing clarity to Labour's policy on Brexit, which has left some voters confused ahead of June's general election. He acknowledged that Britain could not remain in the single market under current rules if it wanted to end free movement of people, but suggested that the EU could be open to changing the rules.

"It is extraordinary that we have a prime minister who has given up on the single market and the customs union even before negotiations have begun, but is so willing to talk up the chance of there being no deal reached," he said. "Theresa May has said that no deal is better than a bad deal. Boris Johnson has said no deal is no problem. Labour are very clear that no deal is the worst possible deal."

Abandon white paper

Sir Keir said Labour would abandon Ms May’s white paper laying out her approach to Brexit in favour of a strategy aimed at maintaining a close relationship with the EU after Britain leaves. Instead of a Great Repeal Bill to transfer EU laws into British law, Labour would introduce an EU rights and protections Bill to ensure that all employment and environmental protections would survive Brexit.

“A Labour government who will reset our approach to Brexit, rebuild relations with the EU and make sure that jobs, the economy and rights come first,” he said.

Ms May dismissed Labour's approach to Brexit as "nonsensical", claiming it was the party's seventh attempt to formulate a policy on leaving the EU. Brexit secretary David Davis said that, under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, Labour was too weak and divided to negotiate a good deal for Britain.

“A divided Labour Party, propped up by a Liberal Democrat-SNP coalition of chaos, can’t even agree amongst themselves on Brexit. Putting this chaotic team in charge of negotiating with the EU would be a dangerous risk to Britain’s future,” he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, three Conservative MPs withdrew from Open Britain, a cross-party group campaigning against a hard Brexit, after the group called for tactical voting to oust pro-Brexit MPs in constituencies which voted Remain in last year's referendum. Nicky Morgan, Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve said the initiative, which would predominantly target Conservative MPs, meant they could no longer support the organisation.

“As long-standing Conservative Party members and MPs, it is untenable for us to play any further role in an organisation, such as Open Britain, which is advocating campaigning against Conservative MPs or candidates. I and we will not be doing so,” they said.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron sought to put to rest a controversy over whether he believes homosexual acts are sinful, telling the BBC that he does not. Mr Farron, an evangelical Christian who has a long record of support for equality for LGBT people, had avoided giving a direct answer to the question in recent weeks.