David Lammy was today put on the spot over Labour’s Brexit policy after it was branded “so stupid”. The accusation came from an audience member following the shadow foreign secretary’s speech at Chatham House in London.
Addressing the question, Mr Lammy defended Labour’s policy of not rejoining the EU’s single market or customs union under a Sir Keir Starmer premiership.
The shadow cabinet minister insisted the referendum arguments need to be put to bed more than six years on and that Brussels wants to see a united approach in Britain.
Mr Lammy said: “Just to go to the tone of the remarks on the single market and the customs union.
“Easy to make those statements, but the truth is what do they say in Brussels? They say they want consensus here in the UK.
“We cannot do the hokey cokey with the EU, it simply doesn’t work like that.”
Mr Lammy said relations with the EU need to be “normalised” before any further progress can be made.
He added: “So it’s easy to make these assertions but we shouldn’t revisit the arguments that divided our nation.
“We are determined in office to govern for everybody, not just those who take a particular view.”
During his 30-minute speech, Mr Lammy said the UK would “not rejoin” the EU, the single market or customs union if Sir Keir takes power at the next general election.
But he said Labour would take action to reverse the “damage” the current UK-EU trade deal is doing to the British economy, while also restoring European relations.
Mr Lammy said: “It has been a central principle of British strategy for centuries that we should never find ourselves isolated in our own continent. But that is exactly what this Government has done.”
The shadow cabinet minister said Labour is “not afraid” to speak about the “damage the Government’s bad Brexit deal has done to our economy”.
He said: “Investment down, growth sluggish or non-existent, 45 percent of businesses say they are having difficulties trading with the EU, the number exporting to Europe has fallen by a third. In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, this is a scandal.”
While reuniting with Brussels in political or economic terms would be a “red line” for Labour, Mr Lammy said his party would “aim to fix the Tories’ bad Brexit deal to increase trade with Europe”.
That would involve changing the Northern Ireland Protocol and reducing trade fiction on food, agricultural, medical and veterinary goods, he said.
He also said a 2025 review of the UK-EU trade deal could be used to “reduce barriers to trade”.
Other ideas for improving cross-Channel relations included “unblocking participation in the Horizon scheme to unleash research and development” and “improving links between our students and universities”.
It comes as Sir Keir, who campaigned for Remain in 2016 before pushing for a second referendum, has recently taken a hardline stance on Brexit.
But there are divisions within the party over the Labour leader’s approach, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan earlier this month calling for the UK to rejoin the single market.