Labour’s position on leaving the EU has been inconsistent despite being a member of it making much of their 2017 Manifesto illegal. In June last year John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, seemed clear that in order to respect the referendum decision, Britain should leave the Single Market. By July he said leaving it had not been ruled out and in September called for its reform.
At this time, more clarity was shown by Barry Gardiner, Labour’s international trades spokesperson. He said remaining in the customs union would make the UK a “vassal state”, unable to negotiate sovereign trade deals. In November, shadow cabinet members voted with the government against continuing in the customs union, thus defeating an amendment laid by a coalition of Tory and Labour remainers.
In February this year, Frank Field MP, veteran anti-EU Campaigner, said that backing such a deal would be “ratting on” those who voted to leave the EU. But in March, McDonnell said it was inevitable Britain would be in a customs union, while in April the unelected Lords passed an amendment calling for this.
The battle in government circles has been fierce. Liam Fox said a customs union would be a “sell out”. Other Brexiteers told Theresa May that any such partnership would be “absolutely unacceptable”, leaving the UK “in a worse position than before the referendum”.
At the moment Prime Minister May is devising schemes for partnership with the EU. She and many on Labour’s front bench seem equally confused, irresolute or duplicitous. None the less, on Peston on Sunday, Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader put down Alistair Campbell’s pro EU comments, saying Labour should listen to the whole of the British people.