Talks with whisky bosses have “reinforced” Labour’s belief that the UK must remain in a customs union with the European Union, the shadow Brexit Secretary said.
Sir Keir Starmer met leading figures from the Scotch Whisky Association in Edinburgh to hear first-hand the industry’s concerns over the possible impact of a hard Brexit.
The group is “very concerned” that the UK could quit the EU with no Brexit deal in place, Sir Keir said, adding that the discussion “reinforces me in the view that a customs union with the EU has to be part of final deal”.
The shadow Brexit secretary also downplayed the split in Scottish Labour over whether the UK should remain in the single market after leaving the EU, after senior party figures signed up to a new group to campaign for this.
Former Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale, MP Ian Murray and MEP Catherine Stihler have all backed the Scottish Labour for the Single Market group.
While Labour does not support this, Sir Keir said the party favoured Britain “retaining the benefits of the single market”.
He stated: “On the single market, there is a strong Labour Party position about retaining the benefits of the single market, everybody agrees on that, both in Scotland and, frankly, across the UK.
“There are disagreements about precisely how you do that but I think we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the whole party is united around that position.”
He continued: “We’re in the single market by virtue of our EU membership at the moment, what we need to do is negotiate a new agreement that retains those benefits. That is what we have set out to do.
“Obviously it’s a negotiation and there has, therefore, got to be difficult discussions ahead, but at the end of the day if the benefits of the single market are delivered, then the precise model is a secondary question.”
He made the comments after Ms Dugdale, a co-chair of Scottish Labour for the Single Market, voiced concerns about “how devastating the Tories’ plan to end freedom of movement could be for Scotland’s economy”.
She said: “In the Labour Party, we must be unashamed to make the positive economic case for immigration.
“By supporting a customs union with the EU we can secure the free movement of goods, but it’s only by remaining in the single market that we can ensure the free movement of people. If we are to leave the EU, it is Labour’s fundamental duty to ensure this happens.”