LABOUR’S shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer yesterday announced a major policy shift, supporting continued membership of the single market and customs union during an undefined ‘transition period’ following the Brexit date of 2019.
In a column in the Observer paper, Starmer said: ‘We need a transitional Brexit deal that provides maximum certainty and stability. Labour will deliver it.’ He stressed: ‘Labour would seek a transitional deal that maintains the same basic terms that we currently enjoy with the EU.
‘That means we would seek to remain in a customs union with the EU and within the single market during this period. It means we would abide by the common rules of both.’
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s office confirmed that the proposals had been agreed with him and were official policy. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said it was a ‘sensible and reasonable’ approach to take, claiming it would give working people ‘certainty’ on their jobs and rights at work.
Starmer claimed in his article: ‘The fanciful and unachievable proposals put forward in the government’s recent customs paper show the colossal risks it is willing to take with British jobs and the economy.’ Starmer said the transition would be ‘as short as possible but as long as necessary’.
Right wing Labour MP Chuka Umunna, co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on EU relations, told BBC News the change in policy was ‘welcome’ and urged Labour to commit to staying in the single market after the transition period.
A new group of Labour MPs backed by former shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander and Wirral South MP Alison McGovern had been calling for a policy of ‘unequivocal’ support for membership of the single market, customs union and European Economic Area.
Responding to Starmer’s announcement, Labour peer and former minister Lord Adonis said on Twitter: ‘Chances of staying in the EU just rose to nearly 50%. Rejoice, rejoice!’ However, a spokesman for Labour Leave, a pro-Brexit movement, warned the party risked losing the 37% of Labour voters who voted to leave the EU.
The group tweeted: ‘Seven out of 10 Labour constituencies voted leave. Single market membership is EU membership in all but name. Labour must honour the referendum.’