Access to the Single Market and Customs Union : The Labour Movement for Europe National Policy Forum Submission

The Labour Movement for Europe has submitted the following paper to the Labour Party's National Policy Forum for the manifesto process - to add your voice to our call for access to the Single Market and Customs Union to be a priority for Labour please click here and vote for our submission to be prioritised. The submission is called 'Working with Europe, Ambitious for Britain'. 

The Labour Movement for Europe is home to all in the Labour and trade union movement who support rebuilding our relationship with our closest neighbours. Whether trade, security, the environment or equality, the UK can achieve more through working with our European counterparts than through the division and isolationism of the Conservatives. In addressing the challenges of our age, cooperation and coordination are necessities as well as ideals.

The Tory Trade and Cooperation Agreement delivered the hardest of Brexits, with British businesses, consumers and workers, farmers and the environment paying the price. Whilst many of the challenges facing our economy began well before our exit from the European Union, Brexit has acted as accelerant to the economic and social decline now threatening the future of the UK. 

The UK is the only G7 country whose economy is still smaller than it was pre-pandemic, with trade between the UK and the EU now a fifth lower than it would have been without Brexit. Overall, the Tory hard Brexit has shrunk the economy by 4%, with the average household facing £870 more in costs as a consequence. The public recognise that damage that has been done - fewer than one in ten could name a specific personal benefit from Brexit, with a third of this group unable to name this benefit when asked to do so.

The lengthy negotiations required to rejoin the EU would be a significant undertaking at a time of economic hardship. It would only be possible to even begin talks with evidence of a democratic bi-partisan consensus, to avoid being stuck in a cycle of repeated referenda and arbitration. As Sir Keir Starmer has argued, it is not enough to secure a deal for Northern Ireland - the whole of the UK deserves the opportunities access to the single market, a customs union and working with Europe offers. Rebuilding our relationship with Europe to support trade and security is in our mutual interests- it also offers powerful opportunities to secure Labour’s ambitions for office: 


  • Labour has pledged to achieve the highest sustained growth in the G7 by the end of our first term in office. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement undermines this aspiration. Alternatively, rebuilding our direct access to the European single market of 550 million people on our doorstep and a bespoke customs union could deliver much greater gains for our national prosperity.
  • Labour has pledged to make Britain a clean energy superpower. Connecting our energy and technology into the European energy market could help us reach this target. 
  • Labour has pledged to build an NHS fit for the future. Participating in world-leading scientific partnerships, and easier movement for scientists and our medical workforce could strengthen a modern healthcare system.
  • Labour has pledged to make Britain’s streets safer. Better information sharing on international criminal activities and a common defence policy could enhance our law enforcement capabilities.
  • Labour has pledged to break down the barriers to opportunity at every stage. Reform of our visa system could make it easier for more of our people to work, learn and travel across the continent.


The Tories have spent years breaking down Britain’s reputation and relationships and building up barriers for our people and businesses. An incoming Labour administration could reverse this by  being a Government of deal makers not deal breakers that is able, trusted and determined to cooperate with Europe for our national interests. Our submission sets out policies to achieve this outcome.


A Deal for Information and Security

Rebuilding our relationship with Europe starts with sharing information to help ease the flow of trade and jobs, as well as ensure our national security. Labour could make a deal to secure the following objectives:

  • Data sharing for safe borders and membership of Europol The lack of data sharing between the UK and EU means the movement of citizens at border crossings takes significantly longer due to the checks required. Labour could seek a data sharing agreement for border crossing information to alleviate this for both people and goods. The continuous threat of terrorism and organised crime means participation in Europol is could be beneficial to securing our borders and our national security.
  • Common defence policy Britain’s defence capabilities are already deeply embedded with our European partners through NATO. Those links could be strengthened by a common defence policy with the EU. Regular Defence Summits hosted by the UK could address issues such as the future for Ukraine and threat posed by cyberwarfare. Joint procurement, joint operations outside Europe and greater alignment with PESCO, where it is in Britain’s interests, could make defence spending more effective, and reflect the leading role the UK could play addressing the world’s common security threats.


A Deal for Jobs and Opportunities

In 2017 Amsterdam replaced London as the primary location for European Share trading, whilst London’s derivative trading platforms lost three quarters of their euro volumes to Amsterdam and New York[1]. Currently, 70% of UK based firms are planning to move their Research and Development to other countries, including the EU and US[2]. Labour could make a deal to secure the following objectives:

  • Principle to favour European alignment in 50/50 choices and remove red tape – Businesses need simplicity and certainty, and consumers and workers want to know they can rely on the goods and services they consume. The Tories’ deregulation drive in the Retained EU Law Bill puts all that at risk. So too exporters are forced to follow two different standards regimes if they want to sell in Europe and the UK. Labour could commit to review all new European regulations, and align with them unless divergence is clearly the best option for Britain’s consumers and exporters. Where faced with a choice between aligning with European regulations or those of other blocs, Labour could commit that European regulations would be the default to give businesses confidence they can invest in the UK.
  • Visas for Work and Travel – From fruit pickers and the fishing industry to scientists, artists and doctors, the freedom to work is not only essential for the UK economy, it also allows our citizens to work around the world. To help ensure all can access these opportunities – especially those in our creative industries and service sectors - Labour could commit to negotiating a new visa and passport system, and securing a Visa Waiver Programme which could ensure greater mobility for our citizens and protect their future job opportunities.
  • Professional standards/qualifications A mutual recognition agreement and alignment on professional standards is essential for British workers in the modern age. It would help provide individuals and businesses the certainty needed to plan for the future without the sudden loss of opportunities that come from derecognition.
  • Financial Services Equivalency The UK’s financial services market cannot thrive if it is cut off from its neighbourhood. Labour could ensure London has a level playing field with other European financial centres, by negotiating a free trade and equivalency deal on which traders and businesses can rely.
  • Supplement Turing by reinstating Erasmus – Leaving Erasmus has not only denied students from the UK and European the academic advantages the program allows, it has also affected nationwide EU undergraduate enrolment which has more than halved[3]. Reinstating this programme would benefit our future research and development capacity as a nation.


A Deal for Trade and Growth

Food and feed trade associations, hauliers, farmers, and veterinary professionals, have all highlighted the massive cost of Brexit red tape. In 2021, new Export Health Certificate (EHC) requirements for exports to the EU cost businesses an estimated £60m in paperwork alone, with more than 288,000 EHC applications requiring the equivalent of 580,000 certifier hours[4]. Labour could make a deal to secure the following objectives:

  • Support the Pan-Euro-Mediterranean (PEM) Convention and negotiate a bespoke Customs Union –Covering preferential rules of origin, this treaty establishes goods produced from originating materials in one country and further processed in another to be exported back to any of the member countries under preferential treatment. Participating could help substantially reduce the red tape these rules create for exporters, and form the basis of negotiating a bespoke EU/UK customs union.
  • Supporting British Farming and Fishing – Labour wants to support Britain’s farmers, fisheries and food industry, and keep consumers safe. A bespoke Customs Union and access to the Single Market, along with mobility visas to help workforce recruitment and retention could be matched with a commitment to stable and high standards in food production. With the number of EU vets registering to work in the UK dropping by more than two thirds, a Phytosanitary and Veterinary agreement with the EU could alleviate this challenge. Labour could back British fishing by seeking an upgraded fisheries agreement on quota and shared stocks. This could include a common policy on the 6-12 mile area of coastal waters, banning foreign owned supertrawlers fishing in Britain’s marine protected areas and redistributing fishing quotas from foreign-owned multinationals to favour small boats. Safety at sea to reduce injuries and deaths in fishing must be part of any agreement for both UK and EU boats in our waters. Would could also require fish caught under a UK quota to be landed in a UK ports, rejuvenating and creating jobs around our coastal communities.


A Deal for Clean Energy

For either the UK or the EU to achieve Net Zero targets, or for the UK to become the clean energy superpower Labour intends, cooperation with our neighbours could bring many opportunities. Labour could make a deal to secure the following objectives:

  • Commit to Horizon Europe – Rejoining Horizon Europe could provide a massive boost to our ambitions in clean energy production and be a green tech superpower. Our departure from the program means UK scientists are missing not just funding, but also chances to collaborate with scientists from the EU, limiting the quantity and quality of research being produced[5].
  • Membership of Gas Coordination Group and Electricity Coordination Group – Set up post the 2009 Russian Gas crisis re-joining these groups could facilitate better communication with our European neighbours on energy matters.
  • Market Coupling and Linked Emissions Trading – Market coupling would help the UK to take full advantage of and use the energy from our proposed North Sea offshore wind and other sources. A linked emission trading scheme could also ensure when the carbon border adjustment comes into force the UK can decarbonise as cheaply as possible.
  • North Sea Energy Cooperative – To support Labour’s target of 50GW of offshore wind by 2030 the UK could join the North Sea Energy Cooperative to secure the maritime special cooperation and planning, power usage and interconnectors required.
  • Steel production – The UK’s ability to produce steel is critical for our national resilience and economic growth. By working with EU partners to align in efforts to protect against dumping and support decarbonisation through carbon border adjustment mechanisms, Labour could ensure the EU remains the largest and most accessible market for UK steel. Energy-intensive industries like the steel industry would benefit from Labour working with Europe to reduce network charges and support energy price guarantees to give producers stability and security.


A Deal for our Values

Membership of the European Union didn’t just allow trade and travel - it also strengthened our ability to uphold our values in an uncertain world. To once again be a beacon for human rights and opportunities for our young people,Labour could make a deal to secure the following objectives:

  • Family Reunion and Refugees The movement of refugees around Europe requires not just the processing of asylum claims but also effective mechanisms to resolve the fate of those who ask for help. The UK could play its part and do so as part of a collective response – that could be done by reconstituting the Dublin agreements to provide for family reunion, managing asylum claims collectively in Europe to deter the small boats crossing the channel and taking action against the smugglers, as well as to ensure safe routes for those at risk.
  • Commitment to the European Court of Human Rights – Labour should always defend the importance of membership of the ECHR as the bedrock of the Good Friday Agreement and a vital protection against overbearing Governments within Europe.
  • Dynamic alignment on regulatory standards Labour should never support a race to the bottom - the Retained EU Law Bill, which threatens our fundamental rights and the foundations of our democratic institutions, must be overturned. Committing to key consumer protections, workers rights, equalities legislation and environmental protections would not only support our relationships with Europe. It could also give citizens clarity on how Labour would raise standards rather than remove them.

The negotiation of positive and mutually beneficial relationships in these diverse but complementary areas can and would assist in the restoration of trust between the UK and the EU and its Member States. The permanent proximity of the UK to the EU and its Single Market, and the community of material, security, cultural and political interests of the UK and EU, means Labour should be confident in the value of internationalism to our national interest. Against those who preach isolationism and call it patriotism, Labour should be proud to stand for these ambitions in our parliament and on the world stage.