No Brexit options off the table, says Labour's Diane Abbott


Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott has said Labour is not taking any options for Brexit off the table, in the latest attempt to clarify the party's position.

Ms Abbott said Labour was open to any means that retained the benefits of the European single market and customs union, echoing comments from John McDonnell and Sir Keir Starmer.

It comes after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn ruled out remaining in the single market and shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said it would be a "disaster" to stay in the customs union.

"The Labour Party made it very clear in its manifesto that it wants a Brexit that puts jobs and the economy first and we are not at this stage taking any options off the table," Ms Abbott told BBC Two's Newsnight.

"We believe in looking at where we want to go, and what we want from these negotiations when we're conducting them is to have the benefits of being in the single market and customs union.

"We're about looking at ends, not structures."

Mr Corbyn told the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the UK must leave the single market as it was "inextricably" linked with EU membership.

And on the issue of the customs union, Mr Gardiner said: "Other countries like Turkey have a separate customs union agreement, but the trouble with that is that it gives you an asymmetrical relationship with the third party countries that the EU does a deal with.

"So the EU could do a deal with another country - let's say America - which we would be bound by in the UK, we would have to accept the liberalisation of our markets, we would have to accept their goods coming into our markets on the terms agreed by Europe, which could be prejudicial to us but we would not have the same access into America's markets, we would be bound to try and negotiate it, but why would America give us that access when it's got all the liberalisation of our market that it wants?

"It's a disaster."

He also said that being a member of the single market but outside the European Union - as Norway is - would leave the UK in the position of a "vassal state".

Challenged on these comments, Ms Abbott told the BBC that while Mr Gardiner "may have seemed to suggest" Britain should leave the single market and customs union, at this point the party was not taking options off the table.

On Mr Corbyn, the shadow home secretary said: "He's quite clear we're not taking options off the table.

"There will be no bigger or more important negotiation in my political lifetime, and it would be foolish at this stage to take options off the table."

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir told senior business figures this week it was "vital" to obtain the benefits of the single market and the customs union and "how we achieve that is secondary to the outcome".

Speaking at a Labour in the City event, Sir Keir said: "Labour's objective is tariff-free access to the single market, no new red tape at customs and a deal that works for services as well as goods.

"It is vital that we retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union. How we achieve that is secondary to the outcome and should be part of the negotiations. We need to be flexible in our approach and not sweep options off the table."

Shadow chancellor Mr McDonnell told the BBC that Labour's objective was "tariff-free access to the market" and "the structures - whether we are in or out - are a secondary matter".