Tuesday 23 January 2018

Labour divided over UK's place in EU markets

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: PA
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: PA

Stephen Swinford

The British Labour Party's Brexit plans yesterday descended into chaos after Jeremy Corbyn was directly contradicted by members of his shadow cabinet over his plans to leave the single market.

Both the Labour leader and John McDonnell, his shadow chancellor, revealed over the weekend that the party is now formally committed to taking Britain out of the European Union's single market and the customs union.

However, Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, and Labour's trade spokesman Barry Gardiner, said the UK should try to negotiate a new form of single market membership.

Their interventions highlight the split at the heart of Labour over Brexit - between Mr Corbyn, who is considered more Eurosceptic, and his predominantly pro-European team.

The divisions over the issue are such that the policy was not set out fully in Labour's general election manifesto, which instead referred, more generally, to "retaining the benefits of the single market".

David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, yesterday suggested that Labour had been "clever" over the European issue because its multiple positions enabled it to appeal to both Remain voters and Ukip supporters.

Mr Corbyn set out Labour's apparent position over membership of the single market on Sunday, when he told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One: "The single market is a requirement of EU membership and, since we won't be EU members, there will have to be anarrangement made."

Mr McDonnell later said that the issue of single market will not be "on the table" in Brexit negotiations, adding that trying to retain membership would mean failing to respect the result of the EU referendum.

However, Sir Keir yesterday appeared to directly contradict both Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell. He said: "David Davis said this morning it's not that the Government doesn't want membership of the single market, it's that they've been told you can't have that without freedom of movement. It seems to me that would be a good place to start a discussion."

He also struck a different tone on free movement, saying there had to be "some change" to curb migration. The Labour manifesto, by contrast, pledged to end the free movement of people from EU member states to the UK.

He added: "It can be done. I'm confident it can be done. We need to send a message to our EU partners that we want collaboration, we want cooperation, and we're going to do this in a grown-up, mature way."

Mr Gardiner, the shadow international trade secretary, echoed Mr Keir yesterday as he criticised Theresa May for "taking membership of the single market off the table".

He said: "What we've said is that we need those benefits, and whether they're achieved through reformed membership of the single market and the customs union, or through a new, bespoke trading arrangement, is actually secondary to achieving the benefits.

"It's an open question as to what we can get. What we criticised [Mrs May] for doing is taking membership of the single market off the table right from the beginning.

"It's quite ironic that she was the one who said you had to take certain things off the table, and she said we should not take off the table a no-deal outcome, which seemed crazy to most people."

Irish Independent

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