Starmer accepts backstop and hints at softening free movement position

Taking a further step towards a softer Brexit, Keir Starmer has indicated his backing for the free movement of workers as part of the UK’s future relationship with the EU. The Shadow Brexit Secretary has also repeated his view that an Irish ‘backstop’ is now “inevitable” in any Brexit deal.

In an interview with Newsnight on Monday evening, Starmer said: “We’re going to need a backstop. Do we have concerns about the backstop? Yes. Do we accept the backstop is inevitable? Yes. And actually, the focus is on that political declaration and answering the question, ‘what should the future relationship with the EU actually look like?’.”

But Jeremy Corbyn, as he told Sky and the BBC last week, has agreed with the Prime Minister that the inability to unilaterally withdraw from the backstop arrangement is unacceptable. Theresa May is currently trying to amend the provision, which keeps the Irish border open in the event no trade deal is struck during the transition period.

Starmer went on to express a softer position on the question of free movement, one of the four freedoms in the European single market, which Labour vowed to end in its 2017 manifesto. Asked whether Labour would back the ‘Norway Plus’ model, which offers free movement to EU workers but not citizens, Starmer replied: “That would have to be explored.”

He added: “I think most people would agree that if somebody is coming to do a job, and it needs to be done, and it’s been advertised locally beforehand with nobody able to do it, then most people say ‘I would accept that’. Most people say that if this is about family reunification… ‘that’s something I can accept’.

“And most people, I think, would say if somebody wants to come here to study, and it’s genuine, then of course please come and study. In fact, let’s celebrate that. I actually think we get stuck on the freedom of movement discussion too early.”

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