Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

Where Does Labour Stand on Brexit? Voters Finally Have Answers

  • Main opposition offered clearest vision yet on divorce from EU
  • Plan comes as May seeks election for free hand in negotiations

With June 8 elections looming, the main opposition party to U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has confused the electorate with mixed messages and contradictory statements on Brexit -- until now.

Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, on Tuesday outlined the party’s clearest strategy yet for the divorce from the European Union. While polling suggests it has little chance of wresting power from May’s Conservatives, as second-biggest party in parliament it’s in the best position to make life harder for the prime minister.

Here’s where Labour stands on the main issues bedeviling Brexit talks.

The Single Market

Starmer identified “retaining the benefits of the single market” as a priority for Brexit negotiations, and criticized May for taking the option of staying in the single market and customs union off the table. “Any sensible negotiation starts by leaving the maximum number of options on the table so there’s room for maneuver,” he said. “Rigidity and recklessness is the government’s approach. What we need is smart and flexible.”

The Customs Union

“We will seek continued tariff-free trade between the U.K. and the EU, no new non-tariff burdens for business, regulatory alignment and continued competitiveness for goods and services,” Starmer said.

International Trade

Starmer said efforts should focus on preserving trading arrangements with the EU, which accounts for 44 percent of Britain’s exports, “rather than focusing on hypothetical new trade deals with other countries.”

Brexit Timetable

Starmer said he envisaged an agreement on exit terms within the two-year-timetable for talks that started at the end of last month. There would then follow a transition, before a final deal on the new relationship between Britain and the bloc kicks in. Starmer also rejected the prospect of leaving the bloc without brokering a deal, calling it a “recipe for chaos.”

“It would cause huge damage to British businesses and trade, including likely tariffs of 30 to 40 percent on dairy and meat producers, 10-percent tariffs on cars and a loss of passporting rights for financial services,” he said.

A Second Referendum

Because of the timetable laid out above, with the final deal only visible in five or six years’ time after Brexit, “the second referendum argument simply doesn’t hold water,” Starmer said, extinguishing proposals by the Liberal Democrats, another opposition party, to hold a referendum on the eventual Brexit deal allowing voters to reject a departure from the bloc on the negotiated terms.

Immigration

The EU’s free movement rules would end at the time of Brexit, leaving the government free to devise a “managed migration system premised on what works for our economy and works for our communities,” Starmer said. “We recognize that immigration rules will have to change as we exit the EU, but we do not believe that immigration should be the overarching priority.” He also said students should be stripped out of net migration figures.

EU Citizen’s Rights

Labour will guarantee the rights of more than 3 million EU citizens living in Britain on “day one” of a new government, Starmer said, adding that the party will fight “equally hard” for the rights of U.K. nationals in the EU. “EU nationals do not just contribute to our society,” he said. “They are our society. And they should not be used as bargaining chips.”

EU Agencies

Labour will seek to retain membership of EU agencies and programs including Erasmus, allowing for student exchanges, Euratom, which governs nuclear cooperation, and Europol, which covers cross-border police matters, Starmer said. He also listed the European Medicines Agency, Eurojust, which governs judicial cooperation, and scientific programs such as Horizon 2020 “and its successor programs.”

Environmental and Workplace Protections

“We do not believe that Brexit means weakening workers’ rights and environmental protections or slashing corporate tax rates,” Starmer said. Instead of proceeding with May’s planned “Great Repeal Bill,” Labour will introduce an “EU Rights and Protections Bill,” he said. “This will make sure that all EU-derived laws –- including workplace laws, consumer rights and environmental protections –- are fully protected without qualifications, limitations or sunset clauses.”

Parliament’s Role

Under Labour, the government would be required to regularly report back to Parliament on the progress of the Brexit talks, as well as working with devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Starmer said. “A Labour approach to Brexit means legislating to guarantee that Parliament has a truly meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal,” he said.

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