Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit stance: what you need to know

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn Copyright Reuters
By Vincent McAviney
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn says he wants a new customs union with the EU to protect trade and avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.


British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn says he wants to negotiate a new post-Brexit customs union with the European Union.

He made the demand in a speech in Coventry, England, on Monday morning. You can watch it in the video player, below.

What is Jeremy Corbyn saying?

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn wants his Labour party to pursue a "Jobs First" approach to Brexit. His overriding message is that the EU is "not the root of all our problems" nor "the source of all enlightenment".

Corbyn argues that as Prime Minister he would negotiate for a bespoke, negotiated relationship with the EU with Single Market rules, protections, clarification or exemption when necessary.

"That new relationship would need to ensure we can deliver or ambitious economic programme, take the essential steps to upgrade and transform our economy, and build an economy for the 21st century that works for the many, not the few".

What does it mean?

Accepting that the UK will keep many EU rules after leaving the bloc puts Labour at odds with Eurosceptics who have demanded an end to Brussels' influence on British decision making.

Corbyn's speech is naturally short on detail, and the scenarios he sets out do not directly conflict with the vision Theresa May has expressed for post-Brexit Britain.

Nevertheless, his position demands that the UK maintain close links with the European Union, agreeing a deal for a "soft Brexit" that is likely to give heart to those in the UK and on the continent who hope to minimise the potential changes and disruption caused by Brexit.

Why is he saying this now?

Jeremy Corbyn claims that: "[Labour's] message has been consistent since the vote 20 months ago. We respect the referendum. Our priority is to get the best deal for people's jobs, living standards and the economy. We reject any race to the bottom in workers' rights, environmental safeguards, consumer protections, or food safety standards".

In reality Labour's position since the referendum has been unclear, Jeremy Corbyn himself has been a long term sceptic of the EU and was criticised for not campaigning hard enough during the referendum for the party's official position of remain. When I interviewed him the morning after the referendum he shocked his own ranks by taking the hardline stance that Article 50 (the two year mechanism for Britain to leave the EU) should be enacted as soon as possible.

Reluctant to alienate core voters in cities that voted strongly to leave the EU, while unwilling to offer support to the Conservative government's Brexit plans, Corbyn has since been muted on the subject. Consequently the party's position has been unclear and confused at times. Last year whilst the Government was busy settling the divorce bill in the first stage of negotiations with Brussels, he focused mostly on domestic issues realising early that Theresa May would call an election.

Now with the second part of the talks underway with EU representatives and the government having seemingly finally agreed a (semi) united position of their own, the time has come to set out his stall. He's getting in ahead of Theresa May who will get final approval from her full cabinet Tuesday before announcing her opening pitch to the EU in a speech on Friday. Corbyn appears to have been convinced by union boses and members of his team like Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer that a new relationship with the single market and customs union is the way to go. As political pundits would put it, he's been on a "journey".

What impact will it have?

Jeremy Corbyn is keen to land a killer blow on a precarious Theresa May. Even if he isn't convinced by the EU himself, he knows his new position will make her job even more difficult. For most of her time since becoming Prime Minister she's had to focus on the fights within her own party on the EU, particularly since the election. This brings with it the constant threat of leadership challenge from the Brexiteer wing. But now she will have to contend increasingly with Corbyn too.

Labour combined with the remainers in Theresa May's party like Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke could inflict defeats in the Commons on key Brexit legislation threatening the collapse of her government - not from the Brexiteers she's worked hard to please but the other side.

Share this articleComments

You might also like

Brexit: a three course meal or a packet of crisps?

Brexit: where do Britain’s political parties stand on a customs union?

Why have a customs union?