Sir Keir Starmer said “we don’t want to diverge” from EU rules as he spoke at a conference of centre-left leaders in Canada.
The more the UK and Brussels “share a future together” the less friction there will be between the two, he can be heard suggesting in footage obtained by Sky News.
The Labour leader has hinted he would seek to a closer relationship with with the bloc if he wins power but has exercised caution in discussing these plans publicly.
Speaking at an international summit of “progressive” politicians including Canadian PM Justin Trudeau over the weekend, he was more explicit about what his vision might involve.
“Most of the conflict with the UK being outside of the (EU) arises insofar as the UK wants to diverge and do different things to the rest of our EU partners,” he said.
“Obviously the more we share values, the more we share a future together, the less the conflict, and actually, different ways of solving problems become available.
“Actually we don’t want to diverge, we don’t want to lower standards, we don’t want to rip up environmental standards, working standards for people that work, food standards and all the rest of it.
“Suddenly you’re in a space where notwithstanding the obvious fact that we are outside the EU and not in the EEA, there’s a lot more common ground than you might think.”
Labour has made clear that returning to the EU’s single market or customs union is a red line it does not want to cross, and the party said it will not put the country in a position where it is a “rule-taker”.
But the comments are likely to reignite debate about the nature of post-Brexit relations with Brussels.
Labour will be seeking to win back parts of the electorate who voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum, and discussion of strengthening ties has been approached with caution so far.
Some argue that closer ties with Brussels would ease trade, while others believe it will burden Britain with unnecessary red tape.
Tory ministers seized on Sir Keir’s remarks as a potential dividing line between the Opposition and Government but Labour said there was already a lack of divergence between EU and UK rules despite Brexit happening three years ago.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly posting on X, formerly called Twitter, said: “Keir voted remain. Then he backed a second referendum. Then he didn’t. Now he wants to rejoin the EU in all but name. What does Labour stand for?”
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris claimed Sir Keir had “revert(ed) to type”, citing his previous support for remaining in the EU, while Tory MP Simon Clarke said “being a rule-taker… would be a disastrous mistake”.
Labour sources rubbished the Conservative criticism and called on the Government to “come clean with the public on which standards they want to reduce”.
A party spokesperson said: “We don’t support dynamic alignment.
“We’re not joining the single market or the customs union.
“We will not be in a situation where we are a rule-taker.”
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