Labour renews Brexit confusion after Corbyn spokesman backs away from EU single market


Hours earlier key members of the leader’s frontbench had signalled that staying in the singe market  was still on ‘the table’

There was fresh confusion over Labour’s Brexit position after Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman ruled out staying in the single market, just hours after two of his frontbenchers suggested the party may back it.

The spokesman reiterated Mr Corbyn’s concerns over keeping the UK within the European Economic Area after Brexit and said it would not deliver his priorities.

But moments earlier one of his closest allies, Diane Abbott, said the party had not ruled out backing a plan brought forward in the House of Lords to keep the UK in the EEA, meaning the country would stay in the single market.

Ms Abbott’s words followed those of another Labour frontbencher who also said nothing is “off the table”.

It follows a meeting of the parliamentary party on Monday in which MPs who both back and oppose staying in the single market spoke out, ahead of a pending vote on the issue.

Conservative MPs have indicated they have enough rebels to defeat the government on an EEA amendment, as long as Labour also votes for it.

Asked about the comments made by the two Labour frontbenchers, Mr Corbyn’s spokesman said: “We won’t talk about whipping arrangements until the votes are held.

“But we have made clear what our priorities are in relation to the kind of agreement we want to see over Brexit.”

He said the party wanted a new customs relationship and new relationship with the single market, highlighting problems Mr Corbyn has with EEA membership “as it exists”.

Pressed for a response on Ms Abbott and Mr Blomfield both apparently signalling that EEA membership is still a possibility, he added: “They were talking about the whipping arrangements.”

In an interview earlier in the day shadow home secretary Ms Abbott, said of the EEA approach: “We haven’t ruled out supporting it… we haven’t taken anything off the table”

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, shadow Brexit minister Mr Blomfield said: “We are absolutely clear. We have said we want a new and comprehensive customs union we want the closest possible relationship with the single market. We want to remain members of the partnerships and agencies we have built together over 45 years. I don’t think we could be clearer.

“We think there are different ways of achieving that close relationship. The EEA has problems associated with it. We are ruling nothing off the table.”

Mr Corbyn was hit by a major rebellion in the Lords when 83 Labour peers defied the party whip to support being in the EEA.

MPs will now vote on the same amendment when the Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill returns to the House of Commons.

There has been a drive from Labour MPs who backed remain to ensure the party supports the amendment, but Mr Corbyn has failed to up to now.

His refusal has led to criticism from former Labour leader Neil Kinnock and ex-foreign secretary David Miliband, while more of his MPs have begun calling for a new referendum on the final Brexit deal.