LONDON – Over 50 Labour politicians have signed a letter to the Guardian that says young people voted Labour in order to “stop the Tories in their tracks,” over “extreme Tory Brexit.”
The group of shadow ministers, backbench MPs, MEPs and peers from across the party write on Wednesday morning that this means “fighting unambiguously for membership of the single market.”
In an attempt to pressure Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn into shifting his position on Brexit, the politicians warn that “if we leave the single market, whatever the level of access is negotiated, working people across Britain will be worse off and revenue to the exchequer will plummet.”
The list of signatories to the letter includes shadow ministers such as Ruth Cadbury and Andy Slaughter, alongside high-profile backbenchers like Chuka Umunna, the former shadow business secretary, Chris Bryant, the former shadow leader of the house, and Stella Creasy.
The statement argues that the UK needs to continue membership of the single market, not just “access” to the bloc, in order to secure the benefits.
Some of those who signed the letter are also forming a new faction within the party which will attempt to block any moves towards a so-called “hard Brexit,” mirroring the Conservative European Research Group, which is made up of heavyweight Brexiteers trying to push through that hard Brexit.
The Labour group argue that “a motley crew of hard-right, pro-Brexit Tories,” comprising Conservative MPs like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and John Redwood are “leading the charge to junk our membership of the single market.”
“We should not be providing political cover to hard-right Tories who stand diametrically opposed to Labour values,” the letter says, attempting to shift the Labour position so it is clearly different from the hard Brexit favoured by the government.
Since the general election, Labour has appeared to soften its approach to Brexit with shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer saying: “I think there’s a majority in the House of Commons for a progressive partnership with the EU, and there’s not a majority for extreme Brexit.”
While Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said that he couldn’t “see” membership of the single market “even being on the table in the negotiations,” Starmer said that single market access would “be a good place to start discussions, start negotiations, rather than simply taking it off the table.”
The letter ends with the Labour politicians arguing that a Labour government under Corbyn “should not throw in the towel as May has done, but could seek membership with reforms on immigration and the other matters we seek.”
Brexit negotiations began on Monday morning despite splits in the Conservative government over the approach they should take.
On Tuesday morning Philip Hammond, the chancellor, made the case for a soft Brexit in a speech at London’s Mansion House. Attacking hard Brexit, he called for “a deep and special future partnership with our EU neighbours.” He previously said that leaving the EU without a deal would be “very, very bad” for Britain.
This intervention was despite both Brexit Secretary David Davis and May remaining committed to plans to crash out of the EU if no deal is secured in two years, saying that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”