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Jeremy Corbyn hit by fresh Brexit rebellion as Labour MPs defy whip on single market

Emilio Casalicchio

2 min read

Jeremy Corbyn was hit by a fresh Brexit rebellion tonight as dozens of Labour MPs backed calls to keep the UK in the single market and customs union after it quits the EU.

A cross-party amendment to the Government’s flagship EU Withdrawal Bill was rejected by the Commons by 322 votes to 99.

But some 48 Labour MPs voted for it against the orders of their party leader to abstain.

Mr Corbyn suffered a similar rebellion in December when some 64 Labour MPs backed a separate bid to keep the UK in the customs union after Brexit.

One of tonight's rebels, former Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie, said: "There’s a growing number of Labour colleagues who feel so strongly about the threat of Brexit austerity that they will - with regret - break the whip to defend the interests of their constituents. When it comes to the single market I hope our frontbench will get off the fence before long."

The single market amendment tonight - during the report stage of the bill - was tabled by SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford and was backed by the Lib Dems and Greens.

SNP MP Peter Grant said: "Today was a huge test for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party – and they failed miserably. Instead of voting with the SNP to prevent a devastating hard Brexit, Labour instead chose to sit on the sidelines, allowing the Tories to edge ever closer to the cliff-edge – putting the jobs, incomes, and living standards of millions of people at risk."

Like the Tories, Mr Corbyn has insisted the UK must quit the single market and customs union after Brexit, although he has said Labour wants Britain to maintain tariff-free access to the European market.

The Labour leader faces a battle within his own party on the issue - with 87% of Labour members wanting to remain in the single market according to a recent YouGov poll.

The Government won every vote tonight and a set of amendments tabled by ministers went through without a vote as the EU Withdrawal Bill faced its latest parliamentary hurdle.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said: "From the beginning our approach has been to work constructively with MPs from across the House wherever possible to improve the bill.

"This is a critical piece of legislation that aims to maximise certainty for individuals and businesses after our exit.

"We are looking forward to working with peers as the bill enters its next stage of scrutiny in the House of Lords at the end of this month."

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