Jeremy Corbyn rules out membership of the single market under Labour

Posted On: 
25th February 2018

Jeremy Corbyn is to rule out Labour supporting UK membership of the single market after Brexit - threatening a major row with many of his own MPs.

Jeremy Corbyn campaigning for Remain in the EU referendum.
PA Images

The Labour leader will say he "cannot be held back" from introducing the economic reforms he says are needed to transform Britain's fortunes.

However, Mr Corbyn is expected to say that a Labour government would seek to join some form of customs union with the EU.

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In a major speech outlining Labour's approach to Brexit, he will say: "The European Union is not the root of all our problems and leaving it will not solve all our problems. Likewise, the EU is not the source of all enlightenment and leaving it does not inevitably spell doom for our country.

"There will be some who will tell you that Brexit is a disaster for this country and some who will tell you that Brexit will create a land of milk and honey. The truth is more down to earth and it’s in our hands: Brexit is what we make of it together."

Mr Corbyn will say Labour would "negotiate a new and strong relationship with the single market that includes full tariff-free access and a floor under existing rights, standards and protections".

But he will stop short of committing Labour's support for the full single market membership it enjoys as part of the EU, arguing it is incompatible with his plans for major state intervention in the economy.

Mr Corbyn will also stress Labour's opposition to the continuation of free movement - a key plank of being in the single market - to stop bosses importing foreign workers to undercut their British employees.

"That new relationship would need to ensure we can deliver our ambitious economic programme, take the essential steps to upgrade and transform our economy, and build an economy for the 21st century that works for the many, not the few," Mr Corbyn will tell an audience in Coventry.

"So we would also seek to negotiate protections, clarifications or exemptions, where necessary, in relation to privatisation and public service competition directives, state aid and procurement rules and the posted workers directive.

"We cannot be held back, inside or outside the EU, from taking the steps we need to support cutting edge industries and local business, stop the tide of privatisation and outsourcing or prevent employers being able to import cheap agency labour from abroad to undercut existing pay and conditions."

Mr Corbyn's approach is likely to cause a major rift with senior Labour figures, dozens of whom signed an open letter calling for the party to back full single market membership.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said Mr Corbyn's expected backing for a customs union between the UK and EU "is a welcome step".

But she added: "It’s right to acknowledge the benefits the UK gets from being part of the single market – and to seek to protect those benefits into the future.

"Currently, it looks like the best way to protect jobs, guarantee a level playing field for workers’ rights and safeguard the Good Friday Agreement is to stay in the single market and customs union."

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, of the anti-Brexit campaign group Open Britain, said: "It is very welcome indeed that Labour is now fully committed to participating in the customs union on the same terms as we do now, putting clear red water between Labour and the Conservatives on that issue.

"But the only way to retain the benefits of the single market and customs union, and to avoid a hard Irish border, is to continue to be part of both, as the TUC has made clear. It is the best anti-austerity policy too because it avoids a huge negative impact on revenues to the Exchequer if we Brexit."

Brexit minister Steve Baker said: "Ever since the referendum, Labour have flitted between offering false reassurances and trying to frustrate Brexit – rather than getting on and making it work.

"Just last week the Shadow Chancellor said Labour are open to a second referendum. Only the Conservatives will get the best Brexit deal for the whole country, properly delivering on the referendum vote to get control of our money, borders and laws, while building a strong new relationship with Europe."