The debate around Brexit has focussed largely on the Conservative Party to date, but this week Labour sought to give further detail on their position. Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer in an article for The Observer confirmed the Labour Party would seek a transitional deal with the EU and would hope to remain in the Customs Union and the Single Market during this period.
The transitional period would be “as short as possible, but as long as necessary” and in that period the country would abide by the common rules of both the customs union and the single market. This means that throughout this transitional stage freedom of movement would continue.
The reaction in the Labour Party to this announcement has been mixed. Chuku Umunna, a leading supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain group described the statement as a “most welcome announcement.” However, some at the top of the party described the move as “unwise” and “incredibly damaging.”
This debate has been ongoing behind the scenes in the Labour Party for some time, but will be analysed as a victory for the ‘Europhiles’ or the ‘Soft Brexit’ contingent of the party and represents a shift in position. Two months ago, Jeremy Corbyn sacked members of his front-bench after they supported an amendment designed to keep the UK in the Single Market and a month ago he confirmed Labour would leave the Single Market.
Although, this position is likely to gain favour with the pro-EU portions of Labour support in student areas and London in particular; it will not be universally popular. To the pro-Leave Labour supporters a transitional deal with no clear end and continued freedom of movement will feel like a betrayal. This could be damaging for the party in Leave marginals across the Midlands and the North.
Accepting the need for a transitional period is sensible from the Labour Party. The refusal, however, to clarify a clear end date for this transitional period will worry voters. Some voters may assess this as the Labour Party looking for a way to stay in the EU indefinitely and renege on their agreement to respect the referendum result.
The Labour Party could now face a difficult few months as they see how this policy lands with their voters and whether there will be any push-back.