Brexit: Labour MPs demand Jeremy Corbyn fights to stay in single market

'We must be clear – 'access' to the European single market is both different and inferior to 'membership' of the single market'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
@Rob_Merrick
Tuesday 20 June 2017 18:40
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Jeremy Corbyn is facing his first internal party challenge since returning after the election
Jeremy Corbyn is facing his first internal party challenge since returning after the election

More than 30 Labour MPs have reopened the party’s split over Brexit by demanding Jeremy Corbyn campaigns to keep Britain in the single market.

The rebels urged the Labour leader not to “throw in the towel” by aping Theresa May in arguing withdrawal is inevitable when Britain leaves the EU.

Instead, they warned that quitting the single market would extend austerity for many years after an independent forecast of a £31bn hit to the public finances.

In agreeing Britain would leave the trading arrangement, Mr Corbyn was siding with a “motley crew of hard-right, pro-Brexit Tories” – including Michael Gove. Boris Johnson, John Redwood and Iain Duncan Smith.

A letter penned by the 34 MPs reads: “We must be clear – “access” to the European single market is both different and inferior to “membership” of the single market.

“Why? Because, if we leave the single market, whatever the level of access is negotiated, working people across Britain will be worse off and revenue to the exchequer will plummet – revenue the next Labour government will need to bring an end to years of damaging Tory austerity.”

And it adds: “At the very least we should strongly oppose May’s decision to take membership off the table in these negotiations.

“An ambitious and confident alternative government – with Corbyn at the helm – should not throw in the towel as May has done, but could seek membership with reforms on immigration and the other matters we seek.”

Among the signatories are Labour big-hitters Chuka Umunna, Maria Eagle, Liz Kendall, Stella Creasy, Pat McFadden, Ann Clwyd, Chris Bryant and Ben Bradshaw.

The letter, published by The Guardian, follows growing dismay among the MPs at Labour’s confused and – they argue – timid stance on Brexit.

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 inside.

Its election manifesto then talked of “fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union”.

In recent days, both Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer and Barry Gardiner, the trade spokesman, have hinted that Labour would try to stay in a “reformed” single market.

But John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, ruled that out, saying: “I can’t see it even being on the table in the negotiations, I don’t think it’s feasible.”

Meanwhile, some senior Tories, in particular Scottish leader Ruth Davidson, are urging the Prime Minister to put single market membership back on the agenda.

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 will bring.

The letter – also signed by peers and MEPs – insists “a country can be a member of the single market without being a member of the EU”.

It argues membership also brings laws and court judgments that guarantee “holiday pay, maternity and paternity leave, the right to join a union” and protect the environment.

And it dismisses Mr Corbyn’s argument that membership prevents “active industrial strategies”, insisting it had not “stopped the likes of Germany having a national investment bank or France and the Netherlands supporting their industries”

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