Shadow minister calls key Labour Brexit policy 'b******s'

A shadow cabinet minister has described a key Labour Brexit policy as "bollocks", according to reports.

Barry Gardiner dismissed the party's demands for the exact same benefits afforded by membership of the single market after Britain leaves the European Union.

The shadow international trade secretary has already had to issue an apology over controversial comments he made during the same event in Brussels about the Irish border row.

In the latest remarks to emerge, Mr Gardiner was discussing the six tests Labour has set for the Brexit deal.

In a recording obtained by the BBC, he reportedly said: "Well let's just take one test - the exact same benefits. Bollocks.

"Always has been bollocks and it remains it.

"We know very well that we cannot have the exact same benefits and actually it would have made sense - because it was the Tories that said they were going to secure the exact same benefits - and our position should have been to say they have said they are going to secure the exact same benefits and we are going to hold them to that standard."

Mr Gardiner apologised on Tuesday morning after a recording of a question and answer session at a think tank event in March emerged where he suggested the Good Friday Agreement that helped bring peace to Northern Ireland is outdated.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn later issued a statement saying the accord must be cherished.

Mr Gardiner had been criticised by a Labour former Northern Ireland Secretary after a recording of the comments emerged.

Lord Hain told the Press Association the shadow international trade secretary was "unbelievably ignorant and irresponsible".

Labour former shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith said the remarks were "reckless".

Former prime minister Tony Blair told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I don't know how anyone can say that.

"It's the only basis upon which you're going to have peace."

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: "Labour fully supports the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects, including no hard border. Crucial this is fully respected in the Brexit negotiations and beyond."

The row comes on the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Gardiner was heard in a recording suggesting the Brexit row over the border issue and the accord had been "played up" and he described the deal as a shibboleth, a Hebrew term used to describe a long-held custom that is outdated.

In the recording, obtained by The Red Roar website, he was heard saying: "We must also recognise there are real economic reasons why people have played up the issue of the Irish border and the need to have the shibboleth of the Good Friday Agreement.

"That is because it is hugely in the Republic of Ireland's economic interest to make sure there is no tariff and no external border there."

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Gardiner said: "Labour is completely committed to the agreement and opposed to any return of a hard border between north and south.

"We are committed to negotiating a new customs union between the UK and Ireland as part of a final Brexit settlement, which would play a key role in ensuring there is no hard border.

"I am deeply sorry that my informal remarks in a meeting last month have led to misunderstanding on that point - in particular, that my use of the word 'shibboleth' in its sense of 'pass word' or 'test of membership' gave the impression that I thought the Good Friday Agreement was in any way outdated or unimportant. I absolutely do not."

Mr Corbyn said the Good Friday Agreement was a "defining moment in Irish history" which allowed peace to prevail.

He added: "There must be no return to a hard border between north and south, and no return to the horrors of the Troubles. All of us on both sides of the Irish Sea have a responsibility to maintain hope for the future.

"The history of Ireland is a great teacher of oppression and brutality, imagination and poetry. For Irish communities everywhere - including in my own constituency - the Good Friday Agreement will always embody their hopes for peace and justice. We must cherish and learn from it for the future."

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