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LONDON – Jeremy Corbyn today sparked confusion after saying he was “open” to the UK staying in the single market permanently after Brexit, only for his aides to deny that there had been any change in policy.
Corbyn and his advisors have long insisted that Britain’s single market membership will end once Britain leaves the EU.
However, in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s World at One, Corbyn said that he wants “a relationship which allows us to trade within the single market,” and that might mean “formal membership.”
“We want a relationship which allows us to trade within the single market,” he told Martha Kearney.
“Whether that is formal membership, which is only possible, I believe, if you are actually a member of the EU, or whether it is an agreed trading relationship, is open for discussion.”
The Labour leader added: “The outcome is more important than the nomenclature on the way,” refusing to rule out leaving the single market after Brexit.
However, a spokesperson for Corbyn subsequently told Business Insider that Labour’s position “hasn’t changed” and insisted that the UK would lose its single market membership after Brexit.
“Our position hasn’t changed. We won’t be “members” of the Single Market after the transition. We want to achieve full tariff free access to the Single Market. That could be achieved by a new relationship with the Single Market or a bespoke trade deal with the EU, which was what Jeremy was referring too.”
In August shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer announced that a Labour government would keep the UK in the single market and customs union during a transition period, and left the door open for Labour to back remaining inside after Brexit.
Deputy leader Tom Watson also suggested that staying in the single market “might be a permanent outcome of negotiations.”
However, Corbyn said that the UK should stay in the single market “for as short as possible” but “as long as necessary” during a transition period.
He suggested that “there has to be managed migration based on needs of people and the needs of the economy,” but did not say whether Labour was against free movement of labour continuing.
Corbyn said the country needed “proper regulation of the labour market” and that “the undercutting of workers rights anywhere is dangerous.”
This morning, the general secretary of the TUC Frances O’Grady told its annual conference that Labour should “put jobs, rights and livelihoods first” by “keeping all options on the table” in negotiations.
MPs will vote on the second reading of the EU withdrawal bill on Monday evening, and Labour has ordered its MPs to vote against the Conservative government and the bill.
Corbyn said that he had told his party to vote down the bill because of concerns over “democratic accountability” and that this is a “power grab” by the government.
When asked whether he would lead Labour into the next election, he replied: “I’m fit and healthy, don’t worry about that.”