UK could remain in single market after Brexit, says Labour MP

12 Jun

The shadow trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, has raised the possibility of the UK remaining in the EU’s single market after Brexit, taking a seemingly different position on the issue to his leader and shadow chancellor.

Asked on Sunday whether he was clear that Brexit would mean an end to single market membership, Jeremy Corbyn told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “Absolutely.”

He added: “Where I frame it is, we want tariff-free access to the European market, we also want to maintain a very important university and research collaboration in Europe, and there’s a whole host of European agencies – Euratom, security, environment – which we wish to be part of.”

Speaking later on ITV’s Peston on Sunday, John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said of single market membership: “I can’t see it even being on the table in the negotiations, I don’t think it’s feasible.”

Asked to confirm this by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday, Gardiner was more circumspect.

“What we’ve said is that we need those benefits, and whether they’re achieved through reformed membership of the the single market and the customs union, or through a new, bespoke trading arrangement, is actually secondary to achieving the benefits.”

Gardiner continued: “It’s an open question as to what we can get. What we criticised [Theresa May] for doing is taking membership of the single market off the table right from the beginning.

“It’s quite ironic that she was the one who said you had to take certain things off the table, and she said we should not take off the table a no-deal outcome, which seemed crazy to most people.

“But she has taken off the table membership of the single market. We’ve said let’s look at that and see if it can be reformed. But the key thing is not to get hung up on the membership of the single market, but to be assured of the benefits that it can bring for our economy and for our jobs.”

Labour’s seemingly mixed position on this cuts to the centre of wider tensions over its Brexit policy, with some senior MPs, including the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, calling for greater flexibility.

Asked whether Labour might collaborate in parliament with May’s government over Brexit-related issues, Gardiner indicated he did not foresee anything beyond what already happened.

Asked about the idea of a cross-party committee on the issue, Gardiner said: “There is such a committee – it’s called the Brexit select committee, and it’s actually chaired by [the Labour MP] Hilary Benn. We have been calling for parliament to have a role in this, for there to be, at the end of the process, a vote for parliament.”

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