Corbyn's position on Brexit 'evolving', claims shadow cabinet minister

PUBLISHED: 09:52 21 February 2018 | UPDATED: 09:59 21 February 2018

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith

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Jeremy Corbyn's position on Brexit is "evolving and deepening", a shadow cabinet supporter of close ties with the EU has claimed.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith - who challenged Mr Corbyn for the Labour leadership in 2016 - told ITV's Good Morning Britain he wanted the UK to remain in the single market and a customs union.

Asked whether this put him at odds with the party leader, a londstanding Eurosceptic, Mr Smith replied: "No, I think Jeremy's position is evolving and deepening."

Challenged by presenter Susanna Reid that he and Mr Corbyn were still "not on the same page" over Brexit, Mr Smith insisted: "We're getting there."

Labour's official position is that it will seek to retain the benefits for Britain of the single market and customs union, but it is not committed to membership following the end of the two-year transition period expected to end in 2021. Mr Corbyn has repeatedly insisted his party would deliver a "jobs-first Brexit".

Last June Mr Corbyn sacked three Labour frontbenchers who voted against the party in favour of a Queen’s speech amendment calling for Britain to remain within the customs union and single market.

the leader told a business audience yesterday that the UK would have to have "a [not the] customs union" with the remaining EU.

Mr Smith told Good Morning Britain: "My absolute number one concern is maintaining the peace process in Northern Ireland. That to me mandates that we've got to keep an open border on the island of Ireland.

"The only way anybody has been able to explain to me or to the public how you do that is through membership of a customs union that is pretty similar to the arrangements we've currently got, and a very strong relationship with the single market, which guarantees over time that you don't need taxes and tariffs because there isn't regulatory divergence between the two authorities.

"That's the sensible thing to do that is also, I think, respecting the referendum."

Challenged directly on whether he would prefer Labour's policy to be "remaining in the single market and a customs union", Mr Smith replied: "Yes."

Asked if this put him at odds with the Labour leader, he said: "No, I think Jeremy's position is evolving and deepening."

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