British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn says his party will campaign to keep the United Kingdom inside a customs union with the European Union (EU) after Brexit, describing the move as necessary for trade and the prevention of a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Corbyn made the comments in London during a speech to the EEF Manufacturers’ Organization – an association for engineering and technology-based businesses in the UK – on Tuesday, suggesting further shift by the UK’s opposition party towards a softer Brexit.
“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,” he said, when asked how Labour’s position on Brexit differed to that of the Conservative government.
“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,” Corbyn added.
“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,” the Labour Party leader stressed.
Corbyn has faced pressure from both party members and some of his own shadow cabinet to be completely clear on his stance toward Britan’s separation from the 28-member bloc, with many calling on him to seek the closest possible ties to the EU.
The opposition leader has previously ruled out the UK staying in the single market, but he and his shadow ministers have floated the idea of Britain being part of “a” customs union.
Corbyn’s comments came two days after his foreign affairs spokeswoman, Emily Thornberry, said it seemed inevitable that London would have to stay in some sort of customs union after leaving the EU.
“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,” she said.
Corbyn, in his speech at the EEF conference, also said the government of British Prime Minister Theresa May needed to clarify its position on Brexit.
“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,” Corbyn noted.