Finally... Labour pile pressure on Theresa May

PUBLISHED: 10:34 25 February 2018 | UPDATED: 10:34 25 February 2018

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer

PA Wire/PA Images

Labour will back Britain staying in a customs union with the European Union post Brexit.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer announced the significant shift which signals clear distance between the government and opposition on Brexit.

He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “Obviously it’s the only way of realistically to get tariff-free access, it’s really important for our manufacturing base and nobody can answer the question how you keep your commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland without a customs union.”

Sir Keir said Labour had conducted “many weeks of discussion unanimously” and had agreed to develop their policy.

He continued: “The customs arrangements at the moment are hardwired into the membership treaty so I think everybody now recognises there’s going to have to be a new treaty - it will do the work of the customs union.

“It’s a customs union, that’s what the CBI are saying now, it’s what the various amendments are now all saying - there’s going to have to be a new agreement, but will it do the work of the current customs union? Yes, that’s the intention.”

Sir Keir said Britain was more likely to strike new deals if it works “jointly with the EU”, adding: “We all want to do bold new trade agreements but we would be better off doing that with the EU.”

And he added that Labour would be willing to join with Tory Brexit rebels to defeat May on some of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill amendments: “Crunch time is coming for the Prime Minister. The majority in parliament needs to be heard and it will be heard sooner or later.”

Meanwhile 80 senior Labour figures have signed a letter asking Jeremy Corbyn to also pledge to keep Britain in the single market. The letter claims the party’s manifesto promises on spending would be hit if Britain left the bloc’s single market.

In a major speech Corbyn will say leaving the European Union does not mean Britain is inevitably doomed.

Setting out Labour’s approach to Brexit, the party leader will say life outside the bloc is “what we make of it together”.

Corbyn will say in the speech that the reality of Brexit is “more down to earth” than the naysayers and the fervent supporters claim.

He will say: “The European Union is not the root of all our problems and leaving it will not solve all our problems.

“Likewise, the EU is not the source of all enlightenment and leaving it does not inevitably spell doom for our country.

“There will be some who will tell you that Brexit is a disaster for this country and some who will tell you that Brexit will create a land of milk and honey.

“The truth is more down to earth and it’s in our hands. Brexit is what we make of it together, the priorities and choices we make in the negotiations.

“This Conservative government is damaging our country and their priorities for Brexit risk increasing the damage.

“But I know what a Labour government could do for this country and that our priorities for the Brexit negotiations are the right ones to create a country that works for the many, not the few.”

A letter backed by senior Labour figures including Chuka Umunna and Lord Kinnock warned leaving the internal market would hit funding for schools, hospitals and social care.

It said: “Labour must clearly and unambiguously set as a negotiating objective the goal of remaining part of the European economic area, in order to participate on a permanent basis in the single market.”

Mr Corbyn will insist that Labour will give the NHS the resources it needs through taxes on the richest.

He will say: “This is a Government that has failed our NHS pre-Brexit and during Brexit.

“And it certainly can’t be trusted with the NHS post-Brexit either.

“Labour will give the NHS the resources it needs because we will raise tax on those with the broadest shoulders to pay for it, not by making up numbers and parading them on the side of a bus.

“And we will use funds returned from Brussels after Brexit to invest in our public services and the jobs of the future, not tax cuts for the richest.

“Some want to use Brexit to turn Britain in on itself. Others want to use Brexit to put rocket boosters under our current economic system’s insecurities and inequalities, turning Britain into a deregulated corporate tax haven, with low wages, limited rights, and cut-price public services in what would be a destructive race to the bottom.

“Labour stands for a completely different future.”

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