Labour could negotiate “a new single market relationship” with the EU after Brexit and stay in a customs union, Sir Keir Starmer has said.
The shadow Brexit secretary said options for retaining the benefits of the single market and customs union “should not be swept off the table”, as he also mentioned a new bespoke trade deal.
Sir Keir told the party’s conference Labour would negotiate a deal “that retains the benefits of the customs union and the single market”.
He said: “Options for achieving that end should not be swept off the table.”
“Subject of course to negotiations, remaining in a form of customs union with the EU is a possible end destination for Labour.”
“We are also flexible as to whether the benefits of the single market are best retained by negotiating a new single market relationship, or by working up from a bespoke trade deal.”
“The outcome is what matters.”
He said Labour would not have “no rash, ideological red lines preventing a sensible deal”.
He added: “No fantastical ‘blue sky’ proposals. A pragmatic approach.”
“Labour are now the grown-ups in the room. We stand ready to take charge of the negotiations.”
“Not acting for narrow political gain, but in the national interest.”
Labour would remain in a customs union and the single market during any transitional deal – a stance that has now been adopted by the Government, said Sir Keir.
He later told a fringe event that he disliked the “speed dating approach” to Brexit of yes or no questions on issues such as freedom of movement and the customs union.
“In the end we do need to retain the benefits of the single market and customs union, in a reconfigured and different way of doing it,” he added.
Labour’s Chuka Umunna, a former shadow cabinet minister, said continued membership of the customs union “is a potentially important shift in the party’s position”.
He added: “It is now even more vital that as we go forward we put clear red water between the Labour Party and the Government on Brexit.”
“For me and many others, that means committing to full and permanent membership of the single market and customs union. We will continue to make this argument.”
Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “While Keir Starmer’s call for a pragmatic negotiation, without arbitrary red lines, is welcome, most firms do not believe that either Labour or the Conservatives have a clear and agreed Brexit policy.”
Sir Keir told the fringe event that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s 4,000-word article on Brexit was a vision for a “very low tax, deregulated economy”.
He also rejected the suggestion that Britain’s new relationship with the EU could not be better than it was before the Brexit vote.
“I have a six-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy, and I’m not going to let them grow up with their dad saying to them that it’ll never be as good as it was,” he said.
Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesman, said: “Starmer happily condemns the Tories for a lack of vision on Brexit, but the reality is Labour is just as clueless.”
“It is misleading for him to pretend that some new customs arrangement can be reached which doesn’t cause massive disruption to British trade.”
“Instead of joining the Tories in the land of fairy tales, Labour should be fighting with the Liberal Democrats to maintain membership of the single market and customs union.”