Labour’s Corbyn says Britain should be in EU customs union after Brexit
Prime Minister Theresa May faced another battlefront after opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Monday called for the UK continuing to remain in the European Union’s customs union after Brexit.
May and her colleagues had often ruled out retaining such links with the EU after exiting hte grouping. Labour’s new position, seen as opting for a ‘soft Brexit’, poses a challenge in parliament, which is currently discussing a bill to withdraw from the EU.
There are already cross-party moves to introduce an amendment to the bill to ensure that the UK remains in the EU customs union.
Labour MPs and pro-EU rebel Conservative MPs are reportedly planning to ensure that the amendment is carried, which will be a blow to May.
In his speech in Coventry, Corbyn sought to set at rest criticism that Labour remained unclear about Brexit, and encouraged those opposed to Brexit that the door may still be open for Labour to call for another referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.
Setting out Labour’s new position, which also seeks to ensure there will be no ‘hard border’ with Ireland, Corbyn said: “When 44% of our exports are to EU countries and 50% of our imports come from the EU, then it is in both our interests for that trade to remain tariff-free.”
“It would damage businesses that export to Europe and the jobs that depend on those exports for there to be the additional costs of tariffs and it would damage consumers here, already failed by stagnant wages and rising housing costs”.
“So we will remain close to the European Union, that’s obvious…During the transition period, Labour would seek to remain in a customs union with the EU and within the single market. That means we would abide by the existing rules of both”.
Corbyn’s new position was hailed by many but also drew criticism from ministers.
Senior Tory leader and former chancellor George Osborne – now the editor of mass circulation newspaper Evening Standard– joined those criticising the May government’s approach on Brexit.
The tabloid said soon after Corbyn’s speech: “The Labour leader has, with the smallest of nudges, manoeuvred himself into a more pro-business, pro-free trade European policy than the Tory Government.”
“He has also opened up the looming prospect of the Prime Minister suffering a huge defeat in the Commons, as the number of Tory MPs who agree with remaining in a customs union grows each week.”
Corbyn’s speech adds pressure on May and her Brexit negotiating team, even though it remains unclear what EU rules and regulations the UK would have to follow if it were to seek continuing membership of the customs union.
A customs union is a form of trade agreement between two or more countries that decide not to impose tariffs (taxes on imports) on each other’s goods and agree to impose common external tariffs on goods from countries outside their customs union.
The purpose of a customs union is to make it easier for member states to trade. Customs unions reduce administrative and financial trade barriers (such as customs checks and charges) and enhance economic cooperation.