Jeremy Corbyn-supporting union boss in row with Labour over 'Brexit stance shift'

Posted On: 
7th October 2018

A union boss closely allied to Jeremy Corbyn has sparked a fresh row with Labour over claims the party has shifted its position on Brexit to end up closer to the EU.

Labour agreed a lengthy Brexit motion at conference
PA Images

Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of the TSSA, has joined other campaigners to argue that the party opted stay inside the European Economic Area when it backed a conference motion on Brexit.

EEA membership would leave the UK subject to EU freedom of movement, which Labour has previously ruled out.

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But the party insisted its policy had not changed - arguing the wording of the motion remained “in line” with its current Brexit plan.

The row highlights the deep splits in the party over Brexit, with a majority of its membership clamouring for closer ties with the EU while its northern voters remain eager to split from the bloc.

The motion passed by Labour delegates in Liverpool last month said the party should support “full participation in the single market” of the EU.

Previously, Labour would only say it wanted “full access” to the single market, arguing EEA membership would leave Britain “rule-takers not rule-makers”.

But Mr Cortes told The Independent: “It is now Labour policy that we must have full participation in the single market, not just access.

“We must now fight for a deal which a minimum delivers this, a customs union and Labour’s six tests as well as keeping ‘Remain’ on the table.”

He was backed up by the Community union, which told the paper: “With over half of our manufacturing exports going into the single market, we were pleased to see Labour shift its policy in favour of ‘full participation’, which would surely mean EEA membership.

“This is vital to protecting the jobs of Community members working in manufacturing. Labour took a step forward at their conference by calling for the people to have a final say on Brexit, and they must continue to press the government on the importance of both the customs union and the single market.”

The Labour Campaign for Free Movement meanwhile argued that the conference had “overwhelmingly voted through a policy committing the party to defending the free movement of people with Europe”.

But a Labour spokesperson said: “The motion passed at conference is in line with Labour’s plan for a strong single market relationship, with shared institutions and common standards, rights and protections.

“This, along with a commitment to negotiate a new comprehensive customs union with the EU, is a strong and balanced package that seeks to retain the benefits of the single market after Brexit."

The Labour conference motion on Brexit also left the door open to the party offering a fresh referendum - with Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer insisting 'Remain' could be an option on the ballot paper.