Labour in fresh Brexit scrap over 'incredible' single market position

Posted On: 
6th May 2018

Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit strategy has come under fire after he ordered Labour peers to abstain on a key vote seeking to keep Britain in the European Economic Area (EEA).

Jeremy Corbyn has ordered Labour peers to abstain in a vote that would seek to keep the UK in the European Economic Area (EEA).
Credit: 
PA

More than 40 Labour peers are planning to defy Mr Corbyn next week by backing a cross-party Lords amendment which seeks to soften Brexit by keeping the UK in the EEA.

EEA membership grants countries full access to the EU's single market but countries like Norway who are members still have to accept EU laws setting out how the bloc works.

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Labour has ruled out continued membership of the single market in the wake of the Brexit vote, and peers have been told to abstain on the Lords amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill next week.

Labour MP Wes Streeting today said it was "incredible that Labour seems to be the biggest stumbling block to remaining in the single market".

He told ITV's Peston on Sunday: "I don't think that is a morally [...] justifiable position. It's certainly not the position of a majority of our members or the majority of Labour voters and trade unionists."

Mr Streeting urged Labour peers to "do what they think is right" and defy Mr Corbyn in order to back the amendment tabled by Lord Waheed Alli.

He said: "We've got enough Conservatives in the House of Commons to defend that amendment if the House of Lords passes, so I hope they will."

Labour frontbencher Barry Gardiner sought to defend the party's position, however, arguing that voting for EEA membership would leave the UK as a "rule taker" without any decision-making sway in Brussels.

"We would have to be bound by the what's called the acquis, the regulations - but we would have no say in making those regulations," he told the Sunday Politics.

He argued that backing EEA membership after the party had ruled out staying in the single market could sow confusion in the minds of Labour voters, and said Mr Corbyn had been "absolutely clear" that peers should not vote for a motion "that talks about staying in the European Economic Area".

Those comments sparked the ire of Chuka Umunna, the former Labour frontbencher who has been a vocal campaigner against Brexit from the Commons backbenches.

Responding to Mr Gardiner, he said: "The problem is most of our members, supporters and voters think we should vote for the EEA."

The Liberal Democrats - who are pushing for a second vote on the final Brexit deal negotiated by the Prime Minister - also seized on the latest Labour row and called on the party's leadership to "find their backbone and start properly standing up against Theresa May on Brexit".

Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake added: "We could have already beaten the government in the House of Lords to ensure that there was a final say for the people on the Conservatives’ Brexit deal – but Labour abstained. It simply isn’t good enough and is letting down the millions of voters who deserve their say on what happens next."