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Rishi Sunak’s post-Brexit deal with the EU is “just a case of the government clearing up its own mess”, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has said.
The Labour frontbencher mocked the Prime Minister’s comments that his agreement put Northern Ireland “in the unbelievably special position” of accessing both the EU and British markets, saying: “I didn’t know he was such a fan of the single market.”
But the MP for Leeds West rejected reopening the Brexit referendum debate, telling the PA news agency: “We’re not going to be going back into the single market or customs union and Labour have been clear about that as well.”
She said her party is “proposing practical changes and improvements that could be won in a short space of time rather than years more of negotiations which I don’t think is in our country’s interest”.
Ms Reeves warned businesses across the UK are “still dealing with botched decisions” almost seven years since the Brexit vote, branding it “a total mess”.
Referring to the Prime Minister’s Windsor Framework negotiated with the EU, she said: “Obviously we welcome the fact that the government have secured changes to the (Northern Ireland) protocol.
“The protocol was not working. Boris Johnson said back in 2019 that he had an oven-ready deal, he had nothing of the sort and here we are almost seven years after the vote to leave the EU happened, still dealing with botched decisions since then.
“So we welcome the fact that there’s improvements to the protocol but it is just a case of the government clearing up its own mess.”
She added: “We’re not going to be going back into the single market or customs union and Labour have been clear about that as well, but it does show that improvements can be made to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the protocol that was secured just over two years ago. That’s positive because there’s lots of aspects of the botched Brexit deal that is not working for British businesses.”
She said that some UK businesses were no longer exporting to the EU due to additional paperwork and bureaucracy while the cultural industries were facing barriers to touring.
She said: “It’s a total mess and we are determined to fix some of the holes in the Brexit deal if we have the opportunity to form the next government.”
Pointing to the government time spent on Brexit, she added: “It’s now been eight years of banging on about Europe and I think another referendum, years more of protracted negotiations would be reliving the trauma that we’ve already been through as a country, but also more uncertainty for businesses who just want to know the framework within which they have to operate.
“We are proposing practical changes and improvements that could be won in a short space of time rather than years more of negotiations which I don’t think is in our country’s interest.”
She said Labour would “look to secure a veterinary agreement to help our agricultural and fishing industries” as well as wanting “touring rights for artists”.
She added: “Services represent well more than 80% of our economy now, but there was almost nothing in the Brexit deal for our service industries.
“One of the things that professional services are saying to me is that they really want mutual recognition of professional qualifications. So if you qualify in the UK as an accountant, an architect or a lawyer, those qualifications could still be recognised in the EU countries.”
She went on: “I represent a Leave voting constituency and I voted Remain.
“I’m not convinced that given a chance to vote again – the question would be different as well – would we want to go back in and I think that people don’t want to go through those painful debates and that division that the Brexit referendum opened up and businesses don’t want that uncertainty of years more of negotiations.
“There are practical improvements that could be made to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement that would be in our national interest and that would be my focus and my priority.”
Asked if the current Brexit deal was acting as a barrier to growth, she said: “Of course it is.
“I know the government don’t like experts very much, but every economist will tell you that it has affected our growth and our potential as an economy, but let’s be clear that Britain’s growth rates were on a downward trajectory before we voted to leave the EU, so the idea that if you just went back in time seven years, that all our economic problems would be fixed, I don’t accept that.
“We can’t just blame Brexit for our problems, there are other challenges as well that an incoming Labour government would like to address.”
She added: “I think that the deal that the government secured was not good enough and it has reduced exports, it has reduced investment into Britain and we want to put that right with the improvements that I’ve set out.”