Keir Starmer is to set out Labour’s plan to improve Brexit with a focus on resolving issues with the Northern Ireland protocol, while insisting that any return to the single market or customs union are completely ruled out.
In a further sign of the party’s new willingness to engage on a subject it has largely avoided under Starmer, the Labour leader will set out a plan to try to reduce red tape over trade, professional qualifications and other issues.
In the speech on Monday evening to the Centre for European Reform thinktank, Starmer was expected to rule out any major changes, for example on single market membership or reversing Brexit, saying such a move would simply reignite rows and cause division.
“In 2016, the British people voted for change. The very narrow question that was on the ballot paper – leaving or remaining in the EU – is now in the past,” he is due to say, according to extracts released in advance by Labour.
“But the hope that underpinned that vote, the desire for a better, fairer, more equitable future for our country, is no closer to being delivered.”
To argue about whether the UK should rejoin the EU would be to “look back over our shoulder”, and would jeopardise public faith in politics, Starmer was to say.
“So let me be very clear: with Labour, Britain will not go back into the EU. We will not be joining the single market. We will not be joining a customs union,” the speech said.
“The reason I say this is simple. Nothing about revisiting those rows will help stimulate growth or bring down food prices or help British business thrive in the modern world. It would simply be a recipe for more division, it would distract us from taking on the challenges facing people, and it would ensure Britain remained stuck for another decade.”
Detailing a plan first outlined by David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, on the sixth anniversary of the Brexit vote in June, Starmer said a key priority would be to improve trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK by eliminating most border checks.
This would be done by a new veterinary agreement for agri-product trade, and a system for low-risk goods to enter Northern Ireland without checks.
Other proposals would include a scheme for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications with the EU and a new policing and security arrangement with Brussels.
While stressing Labour did not want a return to freedom of movement, the plan would also include the idea of “flexible labour mobility arrangements” for people making short-term business trips between the UK and EU, and for musicians and artists embarking on tours.
Jenny Chapman, a Labour peer and shadow Brexit minister, said the plan was not an attempt to reverse Brexit. “I think that would be the last thing the country wants to see,” she told BBC Breakfast. “We’ve had so much division since 2016. I think the last thing certainly Keir Starmer wants to do is to revisit any of that.
“But we do think that the Conservatives, because they have this way of dealing with problems – which is all about ‘if we need to create a fight to garner some political support within our party, we’ll do that’ – they’re taking that approach to issues like Northern Ireland and we think that that’s irresponsible, and we want to see these issues resolved.”