Fresh Labour Brexit confusion as frontbenchers say Norway option 'not off the table'

Posted On: 
16th May 2018

Labour's policy on Brexit has been thrown into fresh confusion after two shadow ministers said a Norway-style trading partnership is not "off the table".

Both Labour and the Conservatives are split on Brexit.
PA Images

The comments, by shadow Brexit minister Paul Blomfield and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, came less than 48 hours after Jeremy Corbyn's spokesman insisted the party would not back membership of the European Economic Area.

MPs will vote on joining Norway in the EEA when the Government's EU Withdrawal Bill returns to the House of Commons.

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Mr Corbyn was hit by a massive rebellion last week when 83 Labour peers defied the party whip to support being in the EEA, a move which would effectively keep Britain in the European single market.

Following a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party on Monday, the Labour leader's spokesman said: "The EEA packages currently in existence don't meet the priorities that we have set out and the Norway option is not appropriate and will not work for the kind of Brexit that we want to see."

But appearing on Radio Four's Today programme, 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. We are concerned about the EEA as an option because there are only two routes into the EEA at the moment none is through membership of the European Union, which is ruled out because of the referendum.

"The other is through membership of Efta (European Free Trade Are), which is effectively ruled out. Because Efta has its own trade agreements it would stand in the way of our desire to have a new and comprehensive customs union."

Shadow Home Secretary also left the door open for Labour backing EEA membership. She said: "We haven’t ruled out supporting it... we haven’t taken anything off the table."

Mr Blomfield's boss, Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, has also ruled out EEA membership in the past.

The confusion threatened to overshadow fresh Labour moves to exploit the Conservatives' own splits on Brexit.

They will stage a Commons vote at 7pm which, if passed, would force the Government to publish all papers presented to ministers on the two customs arrangements being considered by the Cabinet.