The Brexit spokesman for Britain's main opposition party admitted Wednesday that his colleagues are divided over the issue, as British and European businesses sound increasingly urgent warnings about the economic damage the U.K.'s exit from the EU could cause.
The Labour Party's Keir Starmer said "there are very divided views" among Labour lawmakers over whether Britain should try to remain in the EU's single market after Brexit.
"I wish I could report complete unity," Starmer told the BBC, "but we are not in that position."
Some Labour lawmakers want Britain to stay in the single market to minimize disruption to the U.K. economy after Brexit.
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is calling instead for the U.K. to have "full access" to the single market. Critics say that is vague, and EU leaders have repeatedly said Britain can't have the benefits of membership without the responsibilities.The bloc is frustrated with what it sees as a lack of firm proposals from the U.K about future relations, and time is running short. Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.More wrangling is guaranteed when the government's key piece of Brexit legislation returns to the House of Commons next week. Parliament's upper chamber, the House of Lords, has inserted amendments to soften the terms of departure and keep the U.K. economy closely aligned with the bloc's.
Prime Minister Theresa May's government has vowed to overturn those amendments; however her Conservative Party is also divided between those who favor a clean-break "hard Brexit," that would leave Britain freer to strike new trade deals around the world, and others who want to keep closely aligned to the EU, Britain's biggest trading partner."We have a Cabinet that is completely and totally divided so there is no plan for what the negotiating position is going to be," pro-EU Conservative Anna Soubry said Wednesday. "You may think that is a pretty shabby and shocking state of affairs. That is the reality."Soubry and other pro-EU legislators from both Conservative and Labour parties say they will push for the U.K. to remain inside the single marked by joining the European Economic Area, a grouping of the EU plus Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein. May and Corbyn have both rejected the idea.
Amid the indecision, British and European businesses say uncertainty is hurting and they urgently need to know what future trade arrangements will be.
The Dutch government is warning businesses that Dutch products made using British parts and exported outside the EU could fall outside free trade agreements Europe has made with other parts of the world, and therefore be subject to tariffs. That's bad news for U.K. companies in the auto industry, where it's common for cars to be assembled in one country using parts from others.
Transport firms also say they need certainty. James Hookham, deputy chief executive of Britain's Freight Transport Association, said "the industry's frustration with the lack of progress is building daily."
"Logistics businesses simply cannot answer their customers' questions about how they will move goods after Brexit," he said. "Manufacturers and retailers are losing faith and fear that post-Brexit Britain is at real risk of becoming nothing more than a series of road blocks at our ports and airports."
Benoit Rochet, deputy chief executive officer at the Port of Calais, told British lawmakers on Tuesday: "We know that there is Brexit, but we don't exactly know what Brexit means."
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