Sadiq Khan will use a speech this evening to condemn the government’s Brexit damage “denial” and call for a pragmatic debate on rejoining the single market.
The London Labour mayor will argue for a shift away from the current “unnecessarily hardline version” of Brexit towards greater alignment with Europe when he addresses the Mansion House government dinner on Thursday.
The position is at odds with that of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has ruled out rejoining the EU or its single market if his party wins power at the next election.
Mr Khan is expected to say: “I simply can’t keep quiet about the immense damage Brexit is doing.
“Ministers seem to have developed selective amnesia when it comes to one of the root causes of our problems.
“Brexit can’t be airbrushed out of history or the consequences wished away.”
Although the criticism is aimed at the Conservative government, it could also be seen as a veiled swipe at Sir Keir’s stance on Brexit from a party heavyweight.
Sir Keir, despite campaigning for Remain in the 2016 referendum, has recently taken a hardline position, ruling out bringing back free movement of people and arguing there is “no case” for rejoining the EU’s single market.
He has also said he would not pursue a Swiss-style relationship with Brussels, which would mean a closer alignment with the single market and EU laws.
Instead, Sir Keir insisted Labour would fix the gaps in the government’s Brexit deal to then “make Brexit work”.
Speaking in Belfast on Thursday, the Labour leader appeared to reject Mr Khan’s call.
“Look, we have left the EU and there is no case for re-joining the EU or for going back into the single market,” he said.
“But what I do think we need to do is move beyond what I think is a pretty inadequate deal… and make Brexit work. And that is my priority.”
Mr Khan will point to the economic effects of Brexit, including a reduction of GDP by 5.5%, and set out how to “sensibly and maturely mitigate the damage that’s being inflicted”.
He will say: “After two years of denial and avoidance, we must now confront the hard truth: Brexit isn’t working.
“It’s weakened our economy, fractured our union and diminished our reputation. But, crucially, not beyond repair.
“We need greater alignment with our European neighbours – a shift from this extreme, hard Brexit we have now to a workable version that serves our economy and people.
“That includes having a pragmatic debate about the benefits of being a part of the customs union and the single market.”
He will acknowledge that “no one wants to see a return to the division and deadlock” of recent years, while arguing that Brexit’s detrimental effect “at a time when we can least afford it” must be addressed.
The UK’s stretched public finances have led to increased scrutiny about the impact of Brexit in recent months.
Economists have described it as an economic “own goal” that has led to the tax hikes and spending cuts required in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement, while businesses have described “banging their heads against a brick wall” to try and make trade work with the EU.
Polling has suggested public support for Brexit is at an all-time low, while in November, a former trade minister and Brexit supporter criticised the flagship trade deal made with Australia as “not very good”.
Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said the government’s position on Brexit “has not changed”.
“The British people set out their view back in 2016 and the government is busy enacting.”
Source : Sky.com