Jeremy Corbyn sparks fresh Labour backlash over Brexit 'wrecking amendment'

Posted On: 
5th June 2018

Jeremy Corbyn has sparked a fresh backlash from his own MPs after Labour called on the Government to strike a "new single market deal" to protect all the benefits of EU membership even after Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn with Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer.
PA Images

Labour has tabled amendments to Brexit legislation calling on ministers to "ensure the United Kingdom has full access to the internal market of the European Union, underpinned by shared institutions and regulations, with no new impediments to trade and common rights, standards and protections as a minimum".

But significantly, Labour is also seeking to re-word a House of Lords amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill which had called for the UK to join the European Economic Area - the so-called "Norway model".

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Pro-EU Labour MPs and supporters accused Jeremy Corbyn of trying to "wreck" their attempts to keep Britain in the existing single market and customs union.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: "Labour will only accept a Brexit deal that delivers the benefits of the single market and protects jobs and living standards.

"Unlike the Tories, Labour will not sacrifice jobs and the economy in the pursuit of a reckless and extreme interpretation of the referendum result.

"Existing single market agreements that the EU has negotiated with third countries, including Norway, are bespoke deals negotiated with the EU to serve the best interests of those countries.

"We need to learn from them and negotiate our own more ambitious agreement, which serves our economic interests and which prevents a hard border in Northern Ireland."

But one Labour MP told PoliticsHome: "This is about peeling people away from the EEA amendment rather than a big change is position. They are trying to spin it into something it's not.

"The key point is Jeremy will not support single market membership. No amount of spin or alternative words can hide that."

Labour MP Chuka Umunna - speaking for the anti-Brexit Open Britain campaign - said: “The only way of realising the objectives set out in the amendment, short of EU membership, is through the UK being part of the European Economic Area, as a minimum.

“Like the Tory Government and hard Brexiters this amendment seeks 'access' to the EU's single market but this is nowhere near enough. 

"What the overwhelming majority of Labour members and supporters want is so much more - to be part of the framework of protections for workers, consumers and the environment which being part of the European Economic Area uniquely offers to non-EU members.

“All the way through the passage of this Bill, the only amendments which have commanded support on both sides of the House and passed are cross party backbench ones. So, if we are serious about ‘protecting full access to the internal market of the EU’ and ensuring ‘no new impediments to trade’, logic dictates Labour MPs should be whipped to support the cross party EEA amendment sent to us by the House of Lords.”

Richard Angell, director of centre-left Labour campaign Progress, said: "The irony that Corbyn’s frontbench have come up with a ‘third way’ on the single market – neither in favour or against - is not lost.

"It’s a sign they are getting worried about a backlash from the pro-single market Labour membership, but too clever by half. This watered down wrecking amendment is likely to scupper any chance of beating the Government on the Lords amendment but itself fail to attract sufficient rebel Tories to deal a blow on May’s government. These acts are why Labour is seen as the midwife of Brexit.

"To get the ‘exact same benefits of the single market’ you need to be in the EEA. If the frontbench won’t do the right thing Labour members will have their say at Labour party conference."