Labour has finally clarified its position on the customs union after months of speculation.
The shadow cabinet showed “unanimous” support for the UK to effectively keep the same trade agreement with the EU after Brexit, Keir Starmer said on Sunday.
Sir Keir, the shadow Brexit secretary, said Labour’s new agreed policy would “do the work of the customs union, so it is a customs union”.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Sir Keir said it would be “better” to reach “bold” new trade agreements by working with the EU.
He told the 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 “many weeks of discussion” and had agreed “unanimously” to develop their policy, to be announced officially by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Monday.
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.”
It comes after Emily Thornberry this week said the Labour party now backs a customs union that would look “pretty much like” the current one after withdrawal.
Leading Tory rebel Anna Soubry had also insisted on Thursday she had cross-party support for a new amendment to the Government’s trade bill which would mandate the UK to form a customs union with Brussels after Brexit.
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.”
He also signalled support for cross-party amendments on the customs union to the Trade Bill. The Labour MP said: “The Labour front bench put down a number of amendments paving the way for the option of a customs union – they went down a few weeks ago.
“Now these cross-party amendments have gone down essentially saying the same thing and to put it bluntly crunch time is coming for the Prime Minister.
Asked whether Labour would back the cross-party amendments, he said: “We haven’t made a final decision on that but they are so close to our amendments … but whether it’s our amendments or cross-bench amendments, crunch time is now coming for the Prime Minister.
He added: “The majority of Parliament does not back her approach to a customs union and the majority in Parliament needs to be heard and it will be heard sooner rather than later.”