Sir Keir Starmer today called for Britain to have “closer trading relations” with the EU. The Labour leader, who backed Remain in the 2016 referendum, hit out at the current Brexit agreement.
Sir Keir said it was “not a very good deal” and “we need to improve on that”.
But the Labour leader, who previously campaigned for a second referendum, insisted his party would “make Brexit work”.
Speaking at Queen’s University in Belfast this morning, he said: “I have made clear that what an incoming Labour government would do would be to make Brexit work.
“All we have got at the moment is a deal and not a very good deal for the whole of the United Kingdom and we need to improve on that.
“We need closer trading relations, we need better joint work on research and technology, we need stronger security arrangements.
“All of that I think is possible if we are able to restore good faith and integrity into the negotiations.”
Sir Keir also urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to strike a deal with Brussels over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The arrangement has been an ongoing source of tensions as it has led to checks on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The Labour leader said he will offer Mr Sunak “political cover” and called on him to “stand up” to the European Research Group (ERG) of Tory Eurosceptics.
Sir Keir said: “So I say to the Prime Minister, if there is a deal to do in coming weeks – do it.
“Whatever political cover you need, whatever mechanisms in Westminster you require, if it delivers for our national interest and the people of Northern Ireland, we will support you.
“The time for action on the protocol is now. The time to stand up to the ERG is now.
“The time to put Northern Ireland above a Brexit purity cult, which can never be satisfied, is now.”
Despite his previous support for Remain, the Labour leader has recently taken a hardline stance on Brexit and ruled out rejoining the EU’s single market in an apparent bid to win back the northern Red Wall seats lost to the Tories in the 2019 general election.
But there appear to be some divisions within Sir Keir’s party on the issue.
Labour’s London Mayor Sadiq Khan last night blasted the Government’s “denial and avoidance” of the “immense damage” Brexit is doing to the UK.
In a speech at London’s Mansion House Government dinner on Thursday, he called for a shift away from the current “unnecessarily hardline version” of Brexit towards greater alignment with Europe.
Although Mr Khan’s criticism was aimed at the Conservatives, it could also be seen as a veiled swipe at Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s stance on Brexit.