27 June 2024

Changes to UK-EU relationship would not reopen Brexit wounds, says Reynolds

27 June 2024

Labour will not “reopen the wounds of the past” over Brexit as Sir Keir Starmer seeks to strike a better deal with Brussels, a senior shadow cabinet minster said.

Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said political stability, rather than a fresh round of bitter constitutional wrangling, was the best way to achieve a closer trading relationship with the European Union.

Addressing the British Chambers of Commerce at a conference in London, he said the relationship should be driven by “good faith and reason, not by the internal politics of the Conservative Party”.

Mr Reynolds also defended Labour’s cautious approach to the election campaign and sought to persuade bosses they had nothing to fear from the party’s promises to improve workers’ rights.

On the EU, Mr Reynolds again stressed that Labour would not seek to rejoin the single market or customs union, but said there were still improvements that could be made to make business easier.

“We will take the grown-up approach to Brexit that the Government has lacked,” he said.

“We know we can do better, and Labour will not be seeking to rejoin the single market or the customs union, or to reopen the wounds of the past because that wouldn’t give us the stability which we know is essential.

If New Zealand can have a veterinary agreement with our closest neighbours, so can we. And the same can be said for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, for touring rights in the creative industries, and easier inter-company transfers

“We’re clear we need to get a better deal and there are real improvements we could achieve.

“If New Zealand can have a veterinary agreement with our closest neighbours, so can we.

“And the same can be said for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, for touring rights in the creative industries, and easier inter-company transfers.”

Labour has put considerable effort into wooing business leaders in the lead-up to the election as part of what has been dubbed a “smoked salmon and scrambled egg” offensive.

Mr Reynolds repeated Labour’s mantra that it could be both pro-worker and pro-business.

“I don’t believe in any sense that our pro-worker side of that, the plan to make work pay, is anything anyone should be worried about,” he said.

“We’ve consulted very widely with businesses about it. It does raise the employment floor in the UK, but frankly the vast majority of businesses here will be operating very much above that in time.”

Decisions on flexible working would be more “two-sided than one-sided, that is the changes to, for instance, zero-hours contracts”.

But he added: “I doubt that anyone in this room believes or wants anyone to think their business model is, in any way, about exploiting people.”

Labour would introduce new rights from day one for parental leave, sick pay, and protection from unfair dismissal.

We want to return to serious government, to effective policy and to politics as public service, not as pantomime

But he was challenged by one tech company boss, who said the Labour proposals could mean a “fundamental change in how we have to approach employing people” because it “changes the risk profile significantly”.

Mr Reynolds defended Labour’s overall election strategy: “I’m told by some commentators, they don’t think Labour’s campaign is exciting enough.

“We’re not pitching you a new Netflix series. We’re not putting on politics as entertainment.

“We want to return to serious government, to effective policy and to politics as public service, not as pantomime.”

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch will also address the conference, warning that Labour would create “a managed economy, heavily regulated, heavily taxed and weighed down by trade union demands”.

The Cabinet minister will use her speech to promote her party’s “plan for business”.

The pledge features potential free trade agreements with India, the Gulf Cooperation Council and US states, an uplift in research and development spending by £2 billion, and abolishing the main rate of self-employed national insurance.

Ms Badenoch will say: “The Conservatives have a plan for a future where hard work and doing the right thing are rewarded, not punished with higher taxes, or discouraged with unconstrained welfare.

“We celebrate aspiration and opportunity. We recognise that innovation and competition are the powerful forces that bring us prosperity and lift living standards.

The shadow business secretary was speaking at a British Chambers of Commerce conference (Lucy North/PA) (PA Wire)

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