LONDON – Labour’s Brexit policy has been thrown into further confusion after shadow minister Rebecca Long-Bailey suggested Britain could remain part of the European Single Market.
Speaking to the Today programme on Wednesday morning, the shadow business secretary said: “I think we accept the fact that if we are going to have impediment-free access to the single market then there will have to be some element of free movement.”
The MP for Salford and Eccles continued: “It’s a lot easier for business to be able to operate when it has a common set of regulations and we are calling for cooperation, whether that forms part of remaining part of the single market or having access to the single market is a moot point.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell have instead been adamant that leaving the Single Market will be part of Labour’s Brexit plan. McDonnell told ITV’s Robert Peston on Sunday he couldn’t “see” staying in the Single Market “even being on the table in the negotiations,” adding “I don’t think it’s feasible.”
The Single Market is the EU’s free trade arena in which there are no tariffs, quotas or tax, also known as the “internal market.” In order to be a member of the Single Market, though, member states must comply with the EU’s ‘four freedoms’ – the free, unlimited movement of goods, services, capital and people between all member states.
The free movement of people is the most contentious of the four freedoms, as it has resulted in high levels of immigration to western EU states like the UK. Many staunch Brexiteers argue that staying in the Single Market would be a betrayal of the June 23 vote to leave the European Union.
However, Long-Bailey joins Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer in refusing to rule out remaining part of the tariff-free free trade arena. Starmer said on Monday that there should be a “different tone and approach” to negotiations with the European Union, which could mean talks over staying in the single market.
Starmer told The World At One that single market access would “be a good place to start discussions, start negotiations, rather than simply taking it off the table.”
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Barry Gardiner, shadow trade secretary also said on Monday that “what we’ve said is that we need those benefits, and whether they’re achieved through reformed membership of the single market and the customs union, or through a new, bespoke trading arrangement, is actually secondary to achieving the benefits.”
Gardiner was asked later about whether his comments clashed with those of Corbyn and McDonnell, and he said that although it was “highly unlikely” that single market membership continued, it should not be taken off the table.
A source told the Guardian that Starmer’s position on the single market was no different to Corbyn or McDonnell’s, saying “our policy is the same as it was in the manifesto, and hasn’t changed.”
Labour is not the only party to be struggling to come to terms with its Brexit position, with the Conservative Party in chaos after failing to achieve a majority in the General Election.
This morning, veteran Tory MP Ken Clarke said that there should be a “cross-party approach” to a Brexit and former Prime Minister David Cameron was reported as saying that there would be “pressure for a softer Brexit.”
The Conservative deal with the Democratic Unionist Party is likely to involve some kind of agreement moderating Brexit, as the DUP are opposed to any change to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and this would mean staying within the Customs Union.