COVENTRY, England – The leader of the opposition in the United Kingdom looked to distinguish his party’s outlook on Brexit from that of the Conservative government with a pledge to strike a new customs deal with the European Union that would guarantee tariff-free trade and avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn outlined his Brexit approach at a speech in the central English city Coventry, which voted 55 percent in favor of leaving the EU in the June 2016 referendum.
“We have long argued that a customs union is a viable option for the final deal,” the MP for Islington North in London said. “Labour would seek to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union to ensure that there are no tariffs with Europe and to help avoid any need for a hard border in Northern Ireland,” he added.
The frontier between UK territory Northern Ireland and EU member state the Republic of Ireland was a continued sticking point in the Brexit discussions and an issue that goes beyond trade; its status as a soft border was enshrined in the negotiations that in the 1990s brought about peace in a region racked by decades of sectarian violence.
“When 44 percent of our exports are to EU countries and 50 percent of our imports come from the EU, then it is in both our interests for that trade to remain tariff-free,” he said, adding that new trade deals with China and the United States would not cover the shortfall of losing trade with the EU.
Labour would oppose the National Health Service becoming part of any trade deal with the US and would protect farming standards and rights faced with the possibility of new competition from US meat, which does not meet regulations set by Brussels, he said.
Corbyn took the opportunity to attack the Conservative government’s track record on Brexit, accusing them of offering an incoherent strategy for leaving the bloc.
His message met the usual criticism from Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives, with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accusing Corbyn of betraying Leave voters, but it also received a lukewarm reception from anti-Brexit and soft-Brexit campaigners, who said his proposal for a new customs union with the EU did not go far enough.