Labour Brexit splits: Jeremy Corbyn slaps down frontbencher Barry Gardiner on customs union
Jeremy Corbyn again laid bare the deep Labour divisions on Brexit today as he slapped down a call by Barry Gardiner to reject a customs union agreement with the EU.
The Shadow International Trade Secretary this morning reiterated his stance that remaining in the customs union would be bad for Britain and leave it a “vassal state”.
But a spokesperson for Mr Corbyn said it was wrong to “sweep options off the table” - something the leadership team has already done on single market membership.
The customs union sets import tariff rates on all its member states and allows goods to be traded tariff-free between them.
On Sunday night Mr Gardiner said customs union membership would create an “asymmetrical relationship” between the UK and nations the EU does deals with.
“The EU could do a deal with another country, let’s say America, which we would be bound by in the UK,” he explained.
“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.”
But a spokesperson for Mr Corbyn today said the party would not be ruling out customs union membership.
"We need to be flexible in our approach and not sweep options off the table," the spokesperson said.
"As we spelled out in our election manifesto, Labour believes that the Brexit negotiations should put jobs and the economy first, with the priority of tariff-free access to the European single market.
"We want to see a new partnership with the EU that maintains the benefits of both the single market and the customs union."
SINGLE MARKET ROW
But Mr Corbyn has sparked anger by categorically ruling out Britain staying in the single market after Brexit - arguing it is “inextricably linked” to EU membership.
Backbencher Chuka Umunna said the party needed to put “clear red water” between itself and Ukip on Brexit, while Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones insisted there was “no need” to leave the single market.
The TUC, the umbrella organisation representing the UK’s biggest unions, today renewed its call for Labour not to rule out remaining part of the single market.
The single market allows the free movement of goods, services, labour and capital.