UK will 'have to have a customs union' post-Brexit, says Corbyn

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The UK will “have to have a customs union” with the EU after Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn has said, in remarks indicating a further shift by Labour towards a softer Brexit.

Answering questions after a speech to manufacturers’ organisation the EEF, the Labour leader said some form of continued customs union would be imperative, in part to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Asked how Labour’s position on Brexit differed to that of the government, Corbyn said: “We have to have access to European markets, we have to have a customs union that makes sure we can continue that trade, particularly between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That is key to it.”

Corbyn continued: “Being a member of the single market is automatic if you’re a member of the EU. If we’re not in the EU, we’re not automatically a member of it.

“So what we are determined to achieve is a tariff-free trade relationship with Europe, but also to say that we’re not proposing a deregulation of our economy to undercut Europe, and we’re not proposing a sweetheart deal with the USA or anyone else which would result in deregulation, for example through agriculture. We’re very determined to achieve that.”

Corbyn has previously ruled out the UK staying in the single market, but he and other shadow ministers have talked about the idea of the UK being part of “a” customs union – the distinction being that the party does not think it is feasible to stay a full member of the current customs union, which ensures tariff- and barrier-free trade across the EU.

He nonetheless reportedly faced pressure from some shadow ministers to be completely clear on the issue ahead of a gathering to discuss Brexit. Polls have also shown that Labour members are strongly in favour of staying in the customs union, as well as the single market.

On Sunday, the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, said it seemed inevitable the UK would have to stay in some sort of customs union after Brexit.

She told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “We cannot see a way forward when it comes to Northern Ireland or to tariff-free trade across Europe without us being in some form of customs union that probably looks very much like the customs union that there is at the moment, and that’s our position on that.”

The chairs of two key House of Commons committees will hear from business groups about the importance of a customs union, it was announced on Tuesday.

Ahead of the next stages of the customs bill, Nicky Morgan, the Tory MP who chairs the Treasury select committee, and Labour’s Yvette Cooper, chair of the home affairs select committee, will host a meeting for MPs to hear from Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of CBI, and others.

Morgan said: “The government’s desire for trade to be as frictionless as possible is right but MPs need now to understand what that really means, and that is why it is important their local businesses have a chance to share their thoughts with us in Westminster.”

In his speech to the EEF conference, Corbyn said the government needed to clarify its position on leaving the EU.

“Business needs clarity, and with four out of six of the government’s road-to-Brexit speeches already delivered, it seems to me their approach to Brexit is, if anything, even less clear,” he said.

“It’s time for the cabinet to stop fighting and to say where it wants to take the country.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Peter Walker Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 20th February 2018 16.27 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010