Cracks show for Labour as party fails to grasp anti-Brexit feeling of members

PUBLISHED: 13:41 24 July 2017 | UPDATED: 13:41 24 July 2017

Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner

Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner

PA Wire/PA Images

Labour’s Brexit divisions have become apparent once again with trade spokesman Barry Gardiner saying staying in the customs union would be a “disaster”.

Shadow international trade secretary Gardiner said remaining part of the customs arrangement would leave the UK bound by European Union free-trade deals without achieving the benefits.

His comments came after Jeremy Corbyn said the party had yet to decide its position on future customs arrangements, while shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer has said membership of the customs union should remain on the table. Last week a poll by the Economic and Social Research Council showed eight out ten Labour members think the UK should stay in Europe.

Gardiner also dismissed the idea of remaining in the single market under a Norwegian-style agreement, saying it would leave the UK like a “vassal state” - paying money to Brussels without any say over the rules.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “If you do what Norway does, what happens is the very reasons that most people who voted leave, voted to leave - namely to regain sovereignty, to regain control of our borders, not to pay money into the European budget - all are not achieved.

“To adopt the Norwegian situation would be to become a vassal state, because you actually end up paying money into the EU budget but you have less control over the regulations than you do now with a seat round the table.”

Labour leader Corbyn said the UK must leave the single market as it is “inextricably” linked with EU membership - but indicated no decision had yet been reached on the customs union, saying “we haven’t jumped on either side of that fence”.

But Gardiner said: “I just want to point out the issues around the customs union, we leave the customs union because only member states of the European Union are members of the customs union.

“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.”

Earlier Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones has said there is no need to leave the European single market when Britain leaves the European Union.

He told the BBC the UK could have “full and unfettered access” to the market after Brexit, as he also cited the relationship Norway has with the bloc.

Labour’s Jones also said it would be “crazy” to suggest that tariffs on selling goods into the EU after Brexit would not cause problems for British farmers.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “If we were not in the single market, we would be having a debate about how to access it, not how to leave it.

“There is no need to leave the single market, even as we leave the EU.”

Pressed on his views, he added: “I went to Norway in January, they are not members of the EU, but they have almost full access to the single market.”

“You don’t have to leave the EU and leave one of the world’s biggest markets at the same time. That’s an interpretation that’s been put on the result by the current UK Government and that makes no sense at all.”

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