Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has made a speech in favour of the UK being part of a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
In a speech in Coventry today, the leader of the opposition said the UK needed a “bespoke, negotiated relationship of its own” that would include a customs union, but would still allow the UK to negotiate new trade deals “in our own national interest”. This would mean accepting some tariffs but a Labour government would try to make trade “as tariff-free as possible”.
“Labour would seek a final deal that gives full access to European markets and maintains the benefits of the single market and the customs union,” he said.
The Conservative Party has said Labour’s position would prevent the UK making independent trade policies after Brexit and described Corbyn’s speech as a “cynical attempt by Labour to try and frustrate the Brexit process”. Prime minister Theresa May has previously said the UK would leave both the single market and the customs union.
In his speech today, Corbyn also said the UK should negotiate to be allowed to decide which regulatory bodies it would contribute to. He said it made “no sense for the UK to abandon EU agencies and tariff-free trading rules”.
He said Labour would protect current standards including food hygiene and worker rights, singling out concerns that trade deals with the US would force the privatisation of the NHS or the import of chlorinated chicken.
Professor Nigel Driffield, professor of international business at Warwick Business School, said businesses would “largely welcome” Labour’s position but that there were still questions about how rules of origin would be handled.
He said: “If the EU play hardball and treat the UK as a third country, then the country has a lot of work to do to ensure that supply chains for the UK's headline firms are more robust and can be further developed through investments in skills and ensuring access to finance for small firms and potential new entrants.”
Driffield also said it was less clear from Corbyn’s speech how a new customs union would impact the services sector.
David Jinks, head of consumer research at logistics firm ParcelHero, said: “As an international company that ships thousands of parcels a month to the European Union, we strongly support Britain remaining in a customs union with the EU.”
He added that a customs union was “not the same as the single market” and “doesn’t go against the spirit of the nation’s vote in favour of Brexit”.
Liam Fox, secretary of state for trade, described Corbyn’s speech as “a cynical attempt by Labour to try and frustrate the Brexit process and play politics with our country’s future, all the while betraying millions of Labour voters”.
The speech on Brexit marks the first time Labour – whose voter base is split between constituencies that were largely in favour of leaving the EU and those strongly against – has outlined in-depth its position on Brexit.
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