Sir Keir Starmer views the current Brexit deal as a “starting point” with “gaps that we need to fill”, a Labour frontbencher has said.
Shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon insisted the Opposition leader had not suggested he would rip up the agreement when he said on Wednesday the UK needed a “better deal” with Brussels.
Labour would seek to “reduce red tape and allow us to trade on a competitive basis” but a return to free movement remains off the table, Mr McMahon said.
Sir Keir told the British Chambers of Commerce conference that Britain needed a closer trading relationship with the EU but ruled out a push to rejoin the bloc under a Labour government.
Speaking on the BBC, Mr McMahon said: “We do need to improve that deal. Of course we want a closer trading relationship, we absolutely do. We want to ensure that Vauxhall and many others not just survive in this country but thrive.
“Because there are jobs bound up, there are families watching this morning either employed by Vauxhall or a similar place who are deeply worried about what this means.
“So yes we need a better Brexit deal. We will make Brexit work. That doesn’t mean reversing the decision and going back into the EU but the deal we’ve got, it was said to be oven-ready, it wasn’t even half-baked.”
It comes as the UK lobbies Brussels over a Brexit trade deal deadline which could pose an “existential threat” to the British automotive industry, putting thousands of jobs at risk.
Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch and UK officials have raised the issue with counterparts in Brussels ahead of a looming cliff edge when new rules covering electric vehicles (EVs) come into effect at the start of 2024.
Bosses at Vauxhall’s parent company Stellantis told MPs it will be unable to keep a commitment to make EVs in the UK without changes to the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) with the EU.
Under the TCA, from next year 45% of an EV’s value should originate in the UK or EU to qualify for tariff-free trade.
Without meeting the requirements, cars manufactured in the UK would face a 10% tariff if sold in the EU – and vice versa – rendering them uncompetitive.
A Downing Street spokesman said “we hope to come to a resolution with the EU on this” but would not confirm whether talks were aimed at pushing back the deadline.