Labour will not campaign to keep Britain in the Single Market after Brexit, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said today.
Mr McDonnell risked fuelling many Labour MPs’ criticism that Jeremy Corbyn is lukewarm at best about the European Union by arguing instead for “access” to the trading arrangements.
He told the BBC’s Today programme: “We want access to the Single Market. We want the best deal that we can get.”
Challenged that access fell short of membership, Mr McDonnell said: “We don’t want to restrict ourselves at the moment in the discussions that we are having with our European colleagues.
“If we can get access to the Single Market, we can build upon the benefits of the EU, but then tackle some of the perceived disbenefits that made people vote for Brexit.”
The comments – made ahead of Mr McDonnell’s conference speech – appeared to conflict with Mr Corbyn’s statement yesterday that he was opposed to a ‘hard Brexit’.
Most observers define a ‘hard Brexit’ as leaving the Single Market, some describing “access” to it as a meaningless term, because almost any country can have access – but at a heavy price.
In the interview, Mr McDonnell also hit back at criticism that Mr Corbyn failed to campaign hard to keep Britain in the EU – arguing outright enthusiasm would have backfired.
He said: “If we went solely on a Europhile basis we never stood a chance, particularly in areas outside London and the South East that felt left behind in the economy overall.
“Our argument was Remain but reform, create a reform agenda. It was realistic. That was the feedback we were getting on the doorstep.
"We lost, actually, though I still think it was the right decision, because, as I say, large areas of the country voted for Brexit because they couldn't see a reform agenda that could change the EU.”
Mr McDonnell said the danger now was that the Government was alienating potential partners in creating a different EU and “doesn't seem to have a strategy”.
He added: “There was no fallback position prepared by David Cameron, and Theresa May, I think, hasn't been in the game at all.”
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