Labour’s Brexit plan has been unveiled during a general election campaign speech by Sir Keir Starmer.
The shadow Brexit secretary said a Labour government would axe Theresa May’s “rigid and reckless” Brexit strategy in favour of a more constructive approach that would prioritise the economy and not close the door on the single market, the customs union or participation in EU agencies.
Labour’s plan includes guaranteeing the rights of Britain’s 3m EU citizens without waiting for a reciprocal agreement for UK residents in Europe. Starmer said this would boost good will during the negotiations.
Starmer pledged that MPs under a Labour government would have the power to send the prime minister back to the negotiating table if they voted against a final deal, rather than having a choice between accepting a deal or crashing out onto World Trade Organisation rules.
He said that Labour believed that “no deal with the EU is the worst possible outcome”.
In his first speech of the election campaign, Starmer also said Labour would end the free movement of people between Europe and the UK after Brexit.
He said: “We have to listen to what people are telling us about immigration.”
Instead there would be a “managed migration” system, said Starmer, who emphasised that Labour’s top priority would be economic growth.
He blasted the prime minister’s “rigid” Brexit strategy and said that her emphasis on immigration above all else meant she has “ruled out option after option” despite the negotiations not having yet started.
“We recognise that immigration rules will have to change as we exit the EU, but we do not believe that immigration should be the overarching priority… We don’t accept that immigration should be the only red line,” Starmer said.
“Our white paper will make clear that jobs and the economy are Labour’s priority throughout – whereas the Conservatives are willing to put this at risk. It is extraordinary that we have a prime minister who has given up on the single market and the customs union even before negotiations have begun.”
Starmer also vowed to replace the Tories’ Great Repeal Bill, which will give the government the power to change EU laws without parliamentary oversight, with an EU Rights and Protections Bill that will project workers’ rights.
He said: “We do not believe that leaving the EU means severing our ties with Europe. We do not believe that Brexit means weakening workers’ rights and environmental protections or slashing corporate tax rates.”
Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke welcomed Labour’s Brexit strategy.
He said: “At last we’re being presented with a plan to leave the EU that puts defending jobs and the economy first.
“People may have voted to leave the EU but they didn’t vote to be poorer or to lose their jobs and have their living standards attacked. Unfortunately that’s exactly what Theresa May will do by pursuing a hard Brexit and hoodwinking the public into believing she is able to secure a good deal.
“The British people have a choice: A Labour government committed to retaining a working relationship with the EU, remaining in the single market and customs union; getting commitments to investment and protecting employment rights – and improving the lives of ordinary people.
“The Conservative government is in the hands of ring-wing Brextremists – set on damaging trade, severing foreign ties and turning Britain into a deregulated tax-haven.”