Unite has welcomed Labour’s announcement that it supports staying in the EU single market after the Brexit negotiations have finished.
The policy would avoid a damaging economic cliff edge once Britain has left the EU in March 2019.
It sets out a clear delineation between Labour’s and the Tories’ Brexit positions.
Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said the UK must remain within the single market and customs union during a transitional period, estimated by Labour to last between two and four years.
Starmer also left open the option of staying within the single market and “a form of customs union” after transition, so long as a new deal on free movement can be agreed.
In an article in Sunday’s Observer, Starmer wrote, “We need a transitional Brexit deal that provides maximum certainty and stability. Labour will deliver it.”
He criticised the “glacial progress” of the Tory-led negotiations and Theresa May’s dangerous “ideological obsession” with leaving the single market and customs union as part of a transitional arrangement.
He wrote, “The fanciful and unachievable proposals put forward in the government’s recent customs paper show the colossal risks it is willing to take with British jobs and the economy.
“Labour will not take those risks. We will always put jobs and the economy first. That means remaining in a form of customs union with the EU is a possible end destination for Labour, but that must be subject to negotiations.
“It also means that Labour is flexible as to whether the benefits of the single market are best retained by negotiating a new single market relationship or by working up from a bespoke trade deal.”
Starmer was clear any final deal struck during the transition period must include “the need for more effective management of migration”.
Labour’s position echoes that of Unite, which is calling for free movement safeguards that defend all workers against wage cutting – including ending the exploitation of migrant workers.
The safeguards include stronger collective bargaining rights, so any employer wishing to recruit labour abroad should only be able to do so if they are either covered by a proper trade union agreement or by sectoral collective bargaining.
This would end the race-to-the bottom attacks on wages, terms and conditions.
Responding to Labour’s new plans, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said, “Workers will be relieved that one party at least has got their backs, the Labour party.
“Access to the single market and the customs union is vital to secure tens of thousands of jobs across the country, particularly in our manufacturing heartlands where the Tories’ hard Brexit could have catastrophic consequences.
“Jobs and living standards are on the line here, something that seems to have escaped the hard Brexit bunch. Labour’s approach will ensure that these concerns are centre stage as a new relationship with the EU is sought.”