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The leader of the UK's opposition Labour Party on Friday denied he wanted to rejoin the European Union after recent comments led the ruling Conservatives to accuse him of wanting to "unpick Brexit".
Keir Starmer, whose party has for months been consistently well ahead in opinion polls, has just completed a foreign tour aimed at boosting his international stature.
On his return to London, he was quizzed about remarks made several days ago, which largely went unnoticed at the time.
At a centre-left forum in Montreal, he declared that he did not want to "diverge" from European Union rules, sparking reaction from heavyweights in the ruling Tory party.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt accused him of wanting to "unpick Brexit" while Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said he "wants to rejoin the EU in all but name".
The issue remains highly sensitive in the UK, particularly in traditionally Labour leaning areas of northern England that voted in favour of leaving the EU.
Starmer insisted on Friday that there was no case for returning to the EU, its customs union or the single market.
"But that does not mean that a Labour government wants to lower standards on food, lower standards on people's rights at work," he said.
"The Labour Party has been completely consistent on those issues for many, many years... it is also government policy," he added.
The 61-year-old leader promised in a Financial Times interview published Sunday that he would attempt to negotiate a "much better deal" with the UK than the one currently in place.
That was negotiated under the premiership of Boris Johnson and came into force in 2021, with a review set for 2025.
Its implementation has not been smooth, particularly with regards to Northern Ireland, and economists say that leaving has, and will continue to have, a negative impact on the British economy.
Europhile Starmer was in favour of holding a new referendum on Brexit, before it had been implemented, when he was responsible for the party's policy on the issue under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
His party suffered a heavy election defeat at the hands of Johnson, who instead promised to "get Brexit done".
The outcome led to Corbyn stepping down and Starmer taking his place in 2020.
The Conservatives have accused Starmer of lacking a clear stance on the Brexit issue.
He recently explained his position on the social network X, formerly Twitter, saying that Labour "will improve our relationship with Europe and make Brexit work for Britain".
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