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Jeremy Corbyn faces growing trade union backlash over Brexit stance

3 min read

Jeremy Corbyn is under more pressure to rethink his opposition to remaining in the single market after leading unions urged him to keep his options open over Brexit.

The TUC said the single market was the “best way to protect jobs”, while the TSSA called on Labour to “steer away” from the Conservative position.

Mr Corbyn faced a backlash from some Labour MPs when he said on Sunday membership of the single market was “inextricably linked” to being a member state of the European Union.

Shadow International Secretary Barry Gardiner further angered pro-EU Labour MPs when he said remaining in the customs union would be a "disaster" for Britain.

Backbencher Chuka Umunna said the party needed to put “clear red water” between itself and Ukip on Brexit, while Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones insisted there was “no need” to leave the single market.

The TUC, the umbrella organisation representing the UK’s biggest unions, has now renewed its call for Labour not to rule out remaining part of the single market.

In a piece for LabourList, Owen Tudor, the TUC’s head of EU and international relations, argued that concerns about immigration expressed in last year’s referendum could be dealt with within the confines of the single market.

He suggested stronger domestic action to “allay concerns” among the public about the impact of immigration, coupled with measures employed in other countries to give “more control” over movement of people, would show voters they were being listened to.

“These two strategies, taken together, would represent a significant extension of domestic control over migration from the EU,” he wrote.

“And they would allow the UK to respond to voters’ concerns, expressed in the Brexit vote, whilst not closing off the option of continued single market membership.

“At this stage, keeping our options open is the best way forward as we seek a Brexit deal that delivers for working people.

“Remaining in the single market seems the best way to protect jobs and workers’ rights into the future, but all possibilities should be considered.”


Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of the TSSA union, has written his own piece for the New Statesman urging the Labour leadership to be “bold enough to steer away” from those pushing for the “unachievable” target of no free movement but full access to the single market.

“Frankly, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. Or at least now exercise our right to a cooling-off period, so we can read the contractual small-print that will accompany any sort of Brexit...

“Voters want reality and honesty over delusion. That’s why it's important that Labour keeps all options on the table. If as I suspect, staying within the EU is the best deal on offer in 2019, we should not deny voters the possibility of taking it.”


But in a piece for The Guardian today, Barry Gardiner re-affirmed his backing for the UK to leave the single market and customs union after Brexit.

He said: “The UK would technically not be a member of the EU, but we would in effect become a vassal state: obliged to pay into the union’s budget while having even less sovereignty than we do now – no longer able to appoint commissioners, sit on the EU council to have a say in how we determine our regulations and laws, or appoint British judges to the ECJ to adjudicate disputes.

“The 52% would almost certainly consider this a con.”

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