Corbyn Snubs America: Says Labour Would Ignore U.S. Partnership in Favour of Declining EU Customs Union

Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn gives a speech on Brexit at Coventry University in Coventry on February 26, 2018. Corbyn called for 'a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union' after Brexit on Monday in a major policy shift that could force Prime Minister Theresa May's government to change course. / …
BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty

Jeremy Corbyn has said his party will push to keep the UK permanently tied a customs union with the European Union after Brexit, appealing to Tory rebels to help him vote down the government and block or frustrate a full, clean Brexit.

The hard left leader also said there should be a transition period after Brexit where the UK would remain tied to all EU rules including open borders, and dismissed a possible free trade deal with the U.S.

Free market groups were quick to point out the UK would be unable to seal trade deals under Mr. Corbyn’s plans, and UKIP accused Labour of working to “guarantee further unlimited EU immigration, prioritising EU migrants over the rest of the world”.

Labour’s own shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner made similar arguments last year, claiming that staying in a customs union would hinder trade with growing markets and that Brexit voters “would consider it a con if Britain was out of Europe but still subservient to its laws and institutions”.

Mr. Corbyn, meanwhile, said on Monday that “Labour is implacably opposed to our NHS or other public services being part of any trade deal with Trump’s America”, suggesting that opening markets and trade with the U.S. would also open the “door to a flood of further privatisations” — but declining to provide much in the way of evidence for his claim.

“Both the U.S. and China have weaker standards and regulations that would risk dragging Britain into a race to the bottom on vital protections and rights at work,” he claimed — although the EU has already negotiated several trade agreements with countries where standards and worker protections are poor already, such as Communist regime in Vietnam and the Moroccan dictatorship.

U.S. President Donald J. Trump said last year that the world’s largest economy is “working on [a] major Trade Deal with the United Kingdom” after Brexit.

Mr. Corbyn also said that “as a statement of fact” Labour would not make “bogus immigration targets” after Brexit and claimed that migrants were being blamed for various ills after the vote to leave the bloc.

His speech was met with considerable opposition from within the Labour Party as well as from more pro-trade, right-leaning groups.

“Labour would seek a final deal that gives full access to European markets and maintains the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union… with no new impediments to trade and no reduction in rights, standards and protections,” Mr. Corbyn said.

“We have long argued that a customs union is a viable option for the final deal. So 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: “Labour respects the result of the referendum and Britain is leaving the EU. But we will not support any Tory deal that would do lasting damage to jobs, rights and living standards.”

Tory MP Michael Fabricant, a high profile pro-Brexit voice, tweeted of Mr. Corbyn’s plans: “THIS IS NOT BREXIT.”

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted of Mr. Corbyn’s updated Brexit stance: “Crumbling Corbyn betrays Leave voters – and all because he wants to win a Commons vote. Cynical and deluded.”

He added: “Corbyn’s Brexit plan would leave U.K. a colony of the EU – unable to take back control of our borders or our trade policy. White flag from labour before talks even begin.”

Leading Brexit-supporting MP Jacob Rees-Mogg added: “Mr. Corbyn wants to deny the poorest in society the benefits of Brexit.”

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