Labour Brexit policy in confusion after senior MP claims party backs remaining in a 'reformed' EU single market

Comments come one day after John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, said 'I can’t see it even being on the table in the negotiations'

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A senior Labour MP has thrown the party’s Brexit policy into further confusion by claiming the party backs staying in a “reformed” EU single market.

Barry Gardiner hinted that Labour could switch to supporting a softer Brexit – one day after John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, ruled out a rethink on single market membership.

“I can’t see it even being on the table in the negotiations, I don’t think it’s feasible,” Mr McDonnell told ITV’s Peston on Sunday.

To add to the confusion, Jeremy Corbyn said only, “there will have to be an arrangement made” when asked the same question yesterday.

Some senior Tories, in particular Scottish leader Ruth Davidson, are urging the Prime Minister to put single market membership back on the agenda for the talks, following the dramatic election results.

In the new reality of a hung parliament, it is unclear whether there will be a Commons majority for leaving, with the likely economic damage that would bring.

Mr Gardiner, Labour’s trade spokesman, would have been one of the party’s three-strong team for negotiating Brexit if it had won the election, alongside Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry. He criticised Theresa May for “taking membership of the single market off the table right from the beginning”, insisting Labour would not have made that mistake.

“It’s an open question as to what we can get,” Mr Gardiner told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, adding: “We’ve said let’s look at that and see if it can be reformed. But the key thing is not to get hung up on the membership of the single market, but to be assured of the benefits that it can bring for our economy and for our jobs.”

The benefits could be achieved “through reformed membership of the single market and the customs union, or through a new, bespoke trading arrangement”, Mr Gardiner argued.

In the last Parliament, Labour said it would leave the single market, voting against an amendment to the Article 50 bill which sought to keep Britain in that trading arrangement. Its manifesto talked of “fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union”.

It was strongly criticised by the Open Britain group, which is campaigning against a hard Brexit, for putting forward aims that are simply unachievable. “Open Britain believes that only membership of both will allow the UK to enjoy the current benefits which it enjoys through EU membership today,” it said.

Some argue that, with the clock ticking on the two-year Article 50 process, Britain may have to adopt the “Norway option”, remaining in the European Economic Area with full access to the single market. But this would require Britain accepting at least some degree of free movement of EU citizens, which both the Conservatives and Labour have insisted will end.

Labour has refused to back the Tories’ willingness to leave the EU with “no deal – which would mean falling back on harsh World Trading Organisation rules on tariffs and other barriers.

In the interview, Mr Gardiner also appeared to rule out Labour working with the Prime Minister to pursue an achievable Brexit, an idea put forward by Yvette Cooper, the former leadership contender.

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