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Customs union membership after Brexit 'a disaster' - Shadow Trade Secretary

2 min read

A fresh split has opened up in Labour’s stance on Brexit after the Shadow International Trade Secretary said it would be a “disaster” to seek a customs union agreement with the EU. 

Barry Gardiner warned there would be an “asymmetrical relationship” that could leave the UK’s market accessed on terms “prejudicial” to its interests.  

Mr Gardiner also doubled down on Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to remaining in the single market, saying Britain would be a “vassal state” if it was a member of the European Economic Area but not the EU.

Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, has been arguing for the Government to keep continued customs union membership “on the table” as it negotiates the terms of departure from the EU.

But speaking to the BBC’s Westminster Hour, his Shadow Cabinet colleague Mr Gardiner issued a strong warning against the policy.  

He said: “You 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 it gives you an asymmetrical relationship with the countries, 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 to negotiate it but why would America give us that access when it’s got all the liberalisation of our markets that it wants. It’s a disaster.”


Mr Corbyn yesterday shut down the prospect of Labour backing continued membership of the single market, arguing it was “inextricably linked” from being part of the EU.

Last month 49 Labour MPs backed an amendment in favour of the single market and have called for the UK to look at the “Norway model” of being out of the EU but in the EEA.

But Mr Gardiner dismissed the proposal.

“To adopt the Norwegian situation is 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,” he said. 

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