Jeremy Corbyn has come under fire from Labour figures today after his team failed to confirm that the party would support Britain’s membership of the single market in Brexit discussions.
Confusion reigned this afternoon after sources close to the leader appeared to suggest that the party was ambivalent about Single Market access, a claim that is now denied.
Leadership challenger Owen Smith hit out at the equivocation, saying it puts “British jobs and investment at risk”, while Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale distanced herself from the comments.
Concerns were raised earlier this week when Brexit minister David Davis said it was “improbable” that the UK would be able to maintain its membership of the Single Market following Brexit. Asked about the Labour leader’s position today, a spokesperson for Corbyn said that it “depends how you define the issue”. In remarks that threw into doubt Labour’s whole approach to Brexit, the source said:
“There’s a question of what membership of the single market actually means, because it’s often interpreted to mean the whole collection of treaties and directives around the four basic pillars of the EU in free trade, goods, services, labour, and so on.
“There are aspects of that which Jeremy campaigned against in the referendum campaign about particular aspects of the existing treaties and directives which for example require or put pressure on the privatisation or deregulation of public services, state aid rules, and a whole number of other things.
“So in some interpretations of the single market, that’s part of the whole package but what he has said is that Labour is supporting access to the single market in terms of goods and services. So it depends how you define the issue.”
In a later statement, a Corbyn said that the party “will be pressing for full access to the European single market for goods and services”.
Owen Smith hit out at the uncertainty, saying that “tens of thousands of Labour members and trade unionists will be worried to hear that Jeremy Corbyn appears to agree with David Davis that our membership of the single market is not worth fighting for.”
He added: “Jeremy seems happy to accept Brexit at any cost – even if that means putting British jobs and investment at risk.”
Kezia Dugdale was forced to reaffirm Scottish Labour’s commitment to Single Market access, after Nicola Sturgeon went on the attack over the comments. She said that the party is “absolutely committed to EU and single market and supportive of SNP efforts to retain both” – and pointed to the autonomy of Scottish Labour in a letter to the SNP First Minister.
Pro-Europe Labour MPs Pat McFadden and Chuka Umunna both came out in support of access to the Single Market today, with Open Britain campaigner McFadden saying: “The question of the Single Market matters to jobs, trade, investment and prosperity.”
The former Shadow Europe minister also hit out at the uncertainty raised by the Tories, saying the Government’s “position of giving no clarity” is “not good enough for the public who deserve to know what direction we are going in following the referendum.”
Umunna hit out at the Corbyn team comments, saying “Labour should be fighting for Britain to stay in the Single Market, not turning a blind eye to its advantages”.
It is not the first time the Labour leader has caused alarm with post-Brexit comments. The morning after the referendum he drew unhappiness from Labour MPs after appearing to call for Article 50 to be invoked immediately.