Labour’s post-Brexit position came under the spotlight today as a split between Sir Keir Starmer and Sadiq Khan on the UK’s relationship with the EU was reopened.
Starmer used a major speech tonight to say the UK would not rejoin the EU’s single market under a Labour government, while also accusing Boris Johnson of “missing out on Brexit opportunities”.
He outlined a five-point plan to “make Brexit work”, which included pursuing “mutual recognition of professional qualifications” with the EU to boost the UK’s services sectors.
The speech was a clear sign Labour will try to engage more on Brexit amid Conservative party attacks suggesting Starmer would bring the UK back into Brussels’ orbit.
The mayor of London, arguably Labour’s most high profile politician after the party leader, came out today in opposition to Starmer’s comments.
If the UK re-joined the single market it would mean freedom of movement for people, goods, services and capital between Britain and EU member states.
“Keir’s job is to be leader of the Labour Party, my job is to be the mayor of London. That’ll mean on many occasions I agree with the Labour Party, on some occasions I may disagree,” Khan told the BBC.
“I am not the leader of the Labour Party, I don’t speak for the Labour Party, but when I see the businesses who can’t recruit, when I see the challenges we have in finance, in professional services, in construction, in tech, in film, in music, I know that our future is more prosperous or less poor being members of the single market.
“We can’t go back into the European Union, the British public have spoken, what we can do though is to make sure we have the least worst option. For me that is being members of the single market.”
A senior Labour source said the mayor’s intervention “wasn’t ideal”, but that Khan “doesn’t hold any sway in the shadow cabinet”.
Brexit has been an issue that Starmer has largely avoided in a bid to not alienate Leave voters, particularly in traditional Labour constituencies which the party lost in the 2019 election.
Starmer now sees it as the right time to engage the government on the issue as the economy faces potential stagflation and as a row between the UK and EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol drags on.
Starmer said he would seek a new veterinary agreement with the EU in order to reduce checks on agrifoods going to the continent.
He said the deal would remove most of the checks for goods going between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and therefore provide a solution to long-running Northern Ireland Protocol discussions.
“There are some who say ‘we don’t need to make Brexit work. We need to reverse it’. I couldn’t disagree more,” Starmer said.
“Because you cannot move forward or grow the country or deliver change or win back the trust of those who have lost faith in politics if you’re constantly focused on the arguments of the past.
“So let me be very clear: with Labour, Britain will not go back into the EU. We will not be joining the single market. We will not be joining a customs union.
“Nothing about revisiting those rows will help stimulate growth or bring down food prices or help British business thrive in the modern world. It would simply be a recipe for more division, it would distract us from taking on the challenges facing people and it would ensure Britain remained stuck for another decade.”