Jacob Rees-Mogg slams Labour over 'half-cocked' Brexit plan

4 July 2022, 19:22 | Updated: 4 July 2022, 20:34

Jacob Rees-Mogg has criticised Labour's Brexit plan
Jacob Rees-Mogg has criticised Labour's Brexit plan. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Jacob Rees-Mogg has criticised Labour's Brexit plan as "smoke and mirrors", accusing leader Sir Keir Starmer of doing "what the Tories are doing but half-cock".

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The Brexit Opportunities minister told LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr that Sir Keir's plans covered things the Tories were already doing, including changing the Northern Ireland protocol and recognition of qualifications.

Speaking to Andrew, Mr Rees-Mogg said: "I'm fascinated by what [Sir Keir] has got to say, or reports of it... and what he wants to do, by and large, is things either that the Conservatives are doing... they want to change the Northern Ireland Protocol, so I hope he'll support us on our Bill.

"And he wants recognition of qualifications, which we've already legislated for.

"So you do wonder if he was half asleep last year."

He added: "All that Sir Keir is going to be saying later on today is that he wants to do what the Conservatives are doing but half-cock - it's not much of an announcement by him.

"The question is - you wonder whether you can believe it from the man who voted 48 times to try and stop Brexit and who was desperate for a second referendum.

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Mr Rees-Mogg went on to say: "For three years after the referendum he was trying to reverse the result of the referendum.

"So you're saying that he ignored the first vote but accepted the second... that's possible but it doesn't seem very credible.

"I think this is essentially smoke and mirrors."

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Mr Rees-Mogg's comments came after Shadow International Trade Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds stressed to Andrew that Labour are 'not suggesting rejoining the EU, the Customs Union...or indeed, returning to the free movement of people' in their new Brexit plan.

He insisted that the party would not seek to rejoin the single market or customs union, even if public opinion shifted.

"We are not going to change our minds," he said.

On Monday evening, Sir Keir said rejoining the EU or the single market if Labour comes to power would sow further division in Britain.

He said the UK would not join a customs union under his party's leadership, as he set out a five-point plan to "make Brexit work".

In a speech to the Centre for European Reform at an event at the Irish Embassy in London, he said: "There are some who say, 'We don't need to make Brexit work - we need to reverse it'. I couldn't disagree more.

"Because you cannot move forward or grow the country or deliver change or win back the trust of those who have lost faith in politics if you're constantly focused on the arguments of the past.

"We cannot afford to look back over our shoulder because all the time we are doing that we are missing what is ahead of us. "So let me be very clear. Under Labour, Britain will not go back into the EU. We will not be joining the single market. We will not be joining a customs union."

Sir Keir claimed the country is "stuck" with a Government without a plan - one that was elected on a promise to get Brexit done but "has now decided to re-open those old divisions" to keep Prime Minister Boris Johnson in charge.

He acknowledged some may not want to hear Britain would not return to the single market or a customs union under Labour, but added "it is my job to be frank and honest".

"Nothing about revisiting those rows will help stimulate growth or bring down food prices or help British business thrive in the modern world," he said.

"It would simply be a recipe for more division, it would distract us from taking on the challenges facing people and it would ensure Britain remained stuck for another decade."

Sir Keir said the "starting point" of Labour's plan for making Brexit work is to "sort out the Northern Ireland Protocol". The party would eliminate "most border checks created by the Tory Brexit deal", he said, and implement a "new veterinary agreement for Agri-products between the UK and EU".

It would also work with business to put in place a "better scheme" to allow low-risk goods to enter Northern Ireland without "unnecessary checks", he said.

Read more: Andrew Marr: True blue Brexit believers are on the back foot

Read more: Britain must rejoin single market, Sadiq Khan says as he slams Brexit

The Labour leader admitted Britain would not be able to deliver "completely frictionless trade" with the EU outside of the bloc, but said there are "things we can do" to ease the process.

"Labour would extend that new veterinary agreement to cover all the UK, seeking to build on agreements and mechanisms already in place between the EU and other countries - benefiting our exporters at a stroke," he said.

He pointed to a "hulking 'fatberg' of red tape and bureaucracy" under the deal brokered by the Conservatives, claiming this is "hampering the flow of British business".

"We will break that barrier down, unclog the arteries of our economy and allow trade to flourish once more," he added.

It comes amid a fierce row over the Government's plans to overwrite parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol to allay concerns over its impact on the UK.