Corbyn: Brexit does not have to be a disaster

25 February 2018, 23:06

Brexit does not spell doom for Britain, Jeremy Corbyn will say today as the Labour leader commits to remaining in a customs union with the EU beyond Brexit.

In a major policy shift, Mr Corbyn will put some clear blue water between Labour and the Conservative Government by confirming his commitment to a customs union and a pledge to allow the EU to continue to negotiate trade deals on behalf of the UK after Brexit.

:: What you need to know about customs union

The Labour leader, delivering a speech in Coventry, will say that leaving the EU "does not inevitably spell doom for our country" and "Brexit is what we make of it together".

He will pledge to negotiate a "new and strong relationship with the single market that includes full tariff-free access". And he will also promise "a floor under existing rights, standards and protections".

:: Labour shifts to back a customs union with EU after Brexit

Mr Corbyn will negotiate protections or exemptions when it comes to single market rules on state aid and state spending - doubling down on remarks he made last year when he suggested a socialist manifesto might be blocked by the EU's rules on state aid if the UK tried to stay in the single market.

"We will also seek to negotiate protections, clarifications or exemptions, where necessary, in relation to the privatisation and public service competition directives, state aid and procurement rules and the posted workers directive," the Labour leader will say.

He will also pledge to stop "the tide of privatisation and outsourcing to prevent employers being able to import cheap agency labour from abroad".

:: The real reason for Labour's Brexit shift

His remarks are likely to further exacerbate rifts in his party over the single market, after 80 of his MPs backed a letter this weekend demanding that the Labour leader signed up to remaining in the single market after Brexit.

Trying to appeal to both Brexit-backing Labour constituencies across south Wales, the Midlands, and the North, as well as Remain-backing London and Liverpool, Mr Corbyn will try to strike a neutral tone.

"The European Union is not the root of all our problems, and leaving it will not solve all our problems. Likewise, the EU is not the source of all enlightenment and leaving it does not inevitably spell doom for our country.

"There will be some who will tell you that Brexit is a disaster for this country and some who will tell you that Brexit will create a land of milk and honey.

"The truth is more down to earth and it's in our hands. Brexit is what we make of it together, the priorities and choices we make in the negotiations.

"The Conservative government is damaging our country and their priorities for Brexit risk increasing the damage."

The change in Labour policy comes as Tory remainers prepare to rebel to force the Government to sign up to a customs union.

Anna Soubry, a leading Tory rebel, has tabled a cross-party amendment to the Government's trade bill demanding the UK form a customs union with the EU after Brexit.

Two rebels told Sky News over the weekend they believed more than a dozen Conservatives could support the amendment and force a defeat on the Government. Five have already signed up.

Ministers, fearful of a parliamentary crisis, have delayed the trade bill until May. Ministers are urging the rebels to fall into line amid warnings that a vote against Mrs May over the customs union could bring her Government down.

Barry Gardiner, Labour's shadow international trade secretary, refused to be drawn on whether his party would back the amendment.

He told Sky News on Monday: "We've tabled amendments to the Trade Bill which precisely enable us to stay in a customs union in the future.

"Ultimately, when the bill comes back to the House of Commons at report stage, we'll take a decision on which amendments we want to back then."

He also denied backing the amendment would be a purely political ploy, saying: "I've been very pleased to see this Government collapse - it seems to be collapsing under its own internal problems anyway."

Trade Secretary Liam Fox urged the rebels on Sunday to keep an "open mind" ahead of Mrs May's keynote speech on Friday where she will set out her plan for Britain's future relationship with the EU.

He suggested that the deal thrashed out by her Brexit war Cabinet on Thursday would ameliorate their concerns.

"I would say to colleagues that Theresa May has kept a broad range of views on the European issue for a reason. We sat down with those differing views, we set out the issues, we looked at the options and we came to an agreement we are all happy with.

"I hope that they will have an open mind and listen to what the Prime Minister says because I think that what the Prime Minister will set out will deal with a lot of reservations that they have.

"We want to persuade out colleagues of the merits of our argument before we take the bill forward," Mr Fox told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

Ms Soubry and Ms Morgan said on Sunday that they would wait to see what Mrs May is offering on Friday.

:: Watch Jeremy Corbyn's speech live on Sky News at 10.30am