EXCL Chuka Umunna hits out at 'unelected' Jeremy Corbyn aide in Labour Brexit row

Posted On: 
17th May 2018

Chuka Umunna has criticised a close aide to Jeremy Corbyn after he ruled out any prospect of Labour backing membership of the European Economic Area.

Chuka Umunna is a leading preo-EU campaigner on the Labour backbenches.
PA Images

The pro-EU Labour MP for Streatham said the party's policy should not be dictated by "unelected" officials.

Mr Corbyn is facing the prospect of a major backbench rebellion when MPs vote on EEA membership, a move which would effectively keep Britain in the single market.

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Earlier this week, the Labour leader's spokesman indicated that the party will order its MPs to vote against the move.

He said: "The EEA packages currently in existence don't meet the priorities that we have set out and the Norway option is not appropriate and will not work for the kind of Brexit that we want to see."

But speaking to PoliticsHome, Mr Umunna insisted that Labour's official position should be driven by Mr Corbyn himself and could still change.

He said: "We've heard that in relation to whether Labour would agree to a transition period that involved us being a part of the single market and the customs union and the position changed. We were told that Labour couldn't possibly agree to us continuing to participate in a customs union by Labour spokespeople in the past and it is now party policy.

"I generally prefer to observe what people who are selected by Labour party members and elected by Labour party voters are saying, as opposed to unelected people."

Mr Umunna said he and other Labour MPs were encouraged by comments earlier this week by shadow Brexit minister Paul Blomfield, who insisted nothing was "off the table" when it came to EEA membership.

And he also dismissed suggestions by Mr Corbyn's spokesman that joining there EEA would leave the UK as "a rule taker not a rule maker".

He said: "People very much welcome the comments of Paul Blomfield when he said that nothing is off the table in terms of what the party does on the European Economic Area and that decisions as to how we vote haven't been made yet.

"The big reason advanced as to why Labour cannot support the EEA is this notion that we would be a rule receiver rather than a rule maker. I think this is a false description of the state of affairs. Actually what we would go from being is a rule maker to a rule shaper. If we had a free trade agreement with the EU we wouldn't be a rule maker or a rule shaper.

"Members of the EEA sit on the committees that draw up the rules that apply to the internal market, and while they may not have a vote, they are involved in drawing up those rules. If all of the EEA members don't want to apply internal market rules to their countries, then they can choose to disapply the rules. Under a free trade agreement, if we want to access the EU market we are going to have to comply with their products' standards and rules but we would have no influence.

"The other point to make is that the nature of the EEA, should the UK join it, would change. It would become bigger and more influential and the Norwegian prime minister this week said it would increase their bargaining power.

"If we were to become an EEA member, that body would be more powerful than it currently is. For all these reasons Labour backbenchers are urging our frontbench not to follow the lines we see in CCHQ press releases and follow the arguments advanced by hard right Tory ministers on these issues."