Labour's elections chief warns single market row could tear the party apart

  • Brexit row dominates the early stages of the Labour conference.
  • Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn under pressure to take a more pro-EU position.
  • Hundreds of anti-Brexit protesters descend on the conference.
  • Labour’s elections chief warns the issue could tear the party apart.

LONDON — Labour could be torn apart over the question of whether Britain should stay in the single market, a senior member of Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet warned on Sunday.

Speaking at Labour’s Autumn conference in Brighton on Sunday, the party’s election strategist Andrew Gwynne said the party faces an uphill task in appeasing those who want Labour to retain close ties to the EU.

Asked by Business Insider whether the row could “tear the party apart,” Gwynne replied:  “It could if we’re not careful”.

Gwynne said the party had to listen to concerns about immigration expressed in the referendum campaign but warned that the party must not “cut off our nose to spite our face” by backing draconian cuts to migration.

Hundreds of demonstrators descended on Labour conference this afternoon to pressure the party into backing a more pro-EU policy.

However, Corbyn remains opposed to remaining in the single market after Brexit, telling the Andrew Marr show on Sunday morning that it would limit his powers as prime minister.

“We need to look very carefully at the terms of any trade relationship, because at the moment we are part of the single market, obviously. That has within it restrictions on state aid and state spending,” Corbyn told Marr.

“That has pressures on it, through the European Union, to privatise rail, for example, and other services. I think we have to be quite careful about the powers we need as national governments.”

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell also signalled his opposition today, telling the Peston show that it would be “difficult” to remain a member.

Free movement

Gwynne today said Labour had to be “careful” how they settle their Brexit policy, or risk tearing the party apart.

Asked whether he backed retaining freedom of movement after Brexit, Gwynne replied: “It is a very difficult issue.”

“It depends on what deal we come out with. If we want to retain some of the benefits of the European single market then that might mean there will be some form of movement across the continent,”

“But that can be done with checks and balances in place. For example, Switzerland is outside the wider single market but has an agreement with the EU through EFTA to have some of its benefits, and they are able to put restrictions on migrant labour. It might be that we have that sort of approach.”

Gwynne said the party needed to hear voters’ concerns about immigration.

“A lot of my constituents voted for Leave because they wanted to end what they saw as people coming from other parts of the EU, taking their jobs, lowering their wages and living standards, and I understood those concerns. It was actually the duty of us as national politicians to tackle that through domestic policy. We lost that argument in the referendum.

However, Gwynne warned against “cutting off our noses to spite our faces,”

“But what I want to see is a sensible approach because if we end up cutting off our noses to spite our faces, it’s the NHS and social care that will be damaged as a consequence. It is our agriculture and tourism industries that will be damaged as a result of that.”

Labour members remain overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the Single Market and the issue is set to dominate party conference.

Hundreds of anti-Brexit demonstrators held a protest outside the conference centre in Brighton this afternoon. Demonstrators chanted “come on Corbyn, keep us in” as MPs and members made their way into the building. 

Centrist groups within Labour have accused the Corbyn-supporting Momentum group of trying to prevent votes on Brexit and the single market at this year’s conference.

It would be “difficult” for @UKLabour to back single market membership “at the moment,” @johnmcdonnellMP tells #Peston
— BrexitCentral (@BrexitCentral) September 24, 2017

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