Gloves are off as Labour scraps over Single Market position

Catherine Neilan
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Heavyweight MPs such as Chuka Umunna have come out fighting (Source: Getty)

Labour's divisions over Brexit were laid bare yesterday as senior members of the party contradicted each other while MPs lashed out at its leadership.

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones insisted the Single Market was essential for farmers and a boon to the wider UK economy, putting him at odds with Jeremy Corbyn.

"If we were not in the Single Market we’d be having a debate about having to access it, not how to leave it," Jones told the BBC. Just 24 hours earlier, Corbyn said Britain must leave the single market because it is "inextricably linked" to EU membership – a claim that was refuted on his own backbenches.

Jones was backed by MPs including Chuka Umunna, who said he was “absolutely right” and Ben Bradshaw, who said it underscored the “importance for jobs and prosperity of staying in the single market”.

He was also supported by Scottish Labour. A spokesman told City A.M. “As [Kezia Dugdale] has repeatedly said, we support tariff-free access to the single market for the UK. Jobs, the economy and retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union are our priority.”

However, that is not the position of shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner, who said yesterday it would be a “disaster” for the UK to remain in the single market, echoing the argument put forward by the party leader at the weekend.

Gardiner also said the UK would become a “vassal state” of Brussels if it adopted a Norwegian-style relationship with the EU.

“You actually end up paying money into the EU budget but you have less control over the regulations than you do now with a seat round the table,” he said.

Gardiner spoke out against the customs union – which Brexit secretary Keir Starmer has said should remain “on the table” – saying it would lead to an “asymmetric relationship”.

The confusion left some scratching their heads. Former Labour MP Michael Dugher tweeted: "I literally have no idea what Labour's position is on Brexit, single market, customs union, freedom of movement etc. Creative ambiguity?"

A senior Labour party source added: "The truth is that it's unclear what our position is [on the single market and customs union]."

Gardiner and Corbyn are also at odds with Labour backers including trade unions.

A Unite spokesman told City A.M.: "We are looking for access to the single market and a customs union arrangement in order to secure the frictionless trade on which so many of our members’ jobs depend."

“Remaining in the single market seems the best way to protect jobs and workers' rights into the future, but all possibilities should be considered,” a TUC spokesman added.

The division emerged as a new Ipsos Mori poll revealed an increasing number of people regard the single market as the number one priority for Brexit negotiations.

Some 49 per cent of people said it was the most important issue, up five points from the pollster’s last survey. It comes ahead of immigration, which is now the priority for 41 per cent of people, narrowly down from 42 per cent previously.

This isn't the first time Labour has been divided over a burning issue. Just a fortnight ago Labour's business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said Uber was "morally unacceptable" while her colleague Chi Onwurah said the app helped women get home safely.

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