Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer has insisted that no options for Brexit should be off the table in the latest sign of Labour splits on the issue.
Sir Keir told senior business figures that it was ‘vital’ to obtain the benefits of the single market and the customs union and ‘how we achieve that is secondary to the outcome’.
His comments came after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn ruled out remaining in the single market and shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said it would be a ‘disaster’ to stay in the customs union.
Speaking at a Labour in the City event, Sir Keir said: ‘Labour’s objective is tariff-free access to the single market, no new red tape at customs and a deal that works for services as well as goods.
‘It is vital that we retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union. How we achieve that is secondary to the outcome and should be part of the negotiations. We need to be flexible in our approach and not sweep options off the table.’
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC that Labour’s objective was ‘tariff-free access to the market’ and ‘the structures – whether we are in or out – are a secondary matter’.
Their comments appear to mark a shift in Labour’s position since Jeremy Corbyn told the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the UK must leave the single market as it is ‘inextricably’ linked with EU membership.
And on the issue of the customs union, Gardiner said: ‘Other countries like Turkey have a separate customs union agreement, but the trouble with that is that it gives you an asymmetrical relationship with the third party countries that the EU does a deal with.
‘So the EU could do a deal with another country – let’s say America – which we would be bound by in the UK, we would have to accept the liberalisation of our markets, we would have to accept their goods coming into our markets on the terms agreed by Europe, which could be prejudicial to us but we would not have the same access into America’s markets, we would be bound to try and negotiate it, but why would America give us that access when it’s got all the liberalisation of our market that it wants?
‘It’s a disaster.’
He also said that being a member of the single market but outside the European Union – as Norway is – would leave the UK in the position of a ‘vassal state’.
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: ‘Labour need to come clean. Do they support staying in the single market or not?
‘They are in total disarray on the biggest issue facing the country in a generation.
‘The Labour shadow cabinet has taken more positions on Brexit than the Kama Sutra.’