EXCL Labour sister party warns hard border could return in Ireland if party does not support EEA membership
Labour's sister party in Northern Ireland has warned that a hard border is likely to return on the island unless its MPs support membership of the European Economic Area.
The stark claim is contained in a letter to all Labour MPs by SDLP bosses ahead of a crunch House of Commons vote on the Government's flagship EU Withdrawal Bill.
Jeremy Corbyn is braced for a major rebellion after ordering his MPs to abstain on a Lords amendment which calls for EEA membership, a move which would effectively keep the UK in the EU's single market.
In their letter, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Brexit spokesperson Claire Hanna said: "While membership of the EEA is not the SDLP’s ideal position, the adoption of this amendment will allow for the necessary alignment with the single market which is fundamental to preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland.
"While we understand and appreciate that there has been good work and efforts made to move to a position of alignment with the European internal market - the SDLP stresses that the removal of the EEA from the draft text of the bill will represent a weakening of this position - and will risk a hard border in Ireland.
"The SDLP urges all MPs to support the Lord's amendment to remain in the EEA - we don’t just need a vision for a better negotiation strategy, we need it to be a plan."
Labour has said that EEA membership - which is also known as the Norway option - is not suitable for the UK, and have said that they would try to negotiate a bespoke deal affering full access to the single market instead.
Shadow Brexit Secretary 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."