LONDON — Jeremy Corbyn has angered Labour MPs by confirming that he would definitely take Britain out of the single market as part of Brexit.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, the Labour leader ruled out keeping Britain in the single market as an option he would consider, claiming that EU membership and single market membership are “inextricably linked”.
“The single market is dependent on membership of the EU,” Corbyn said.
“What we have said all along is that we want a tariff-free trade access to the European market and a partnership with Europe in the future.
“The two things are inextricably linked so the question then is the kind of trade relationship of the future and we have made it very clear we want a tariff-free trade access with the European market.”
The single market is the EU’s core free trade arena in which there are no tariffs, quotas or tax, also known as the “internal market.” In order to be a member of the single market as an EU member state, you must accept the market’s ‘four freedoms’ — the free, unlimited movement of goods, services, capital and people between all 28 member states.
Corbyn has ruled out keeping Britain in the single market as he claims that membership of the market requires a state to also be a member of the EU. However, Labour MPs Chuka Umunna pointed out on Sunday that countries like Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein are part of the single market despite not being EU member states. His colleague Wes Streeting MP said that it is “factually untrue” to claim you can’t be in the single market without first being in the EU.
This episode is another indication of the difficulty Corbyn is facing in adopting a Brexit position which satisfies the competing wings of his party. Umunna tabled an amendment last month calling on the government to keep Britain in the single market which was signed by 49 Labour MPs, despite Corbyn instructing them to obey his orders and not do so. Over 80% of Labour members support Britain staying in the single market, it was revealed earlier this month.
Umunna on Sunday posted further tweets claiming that being in the single market “promotes social justice” and would help “end austerity.” He added that Britain should “at the very least” look to remain in the single market as part of the transitional period which Theresa May’s government intends to pursue in order to prevent a “cliff edge” departure.
How do you solve a problem like Brexit?
It is not just the single market that Labour is struggling to get to grips with. Shadow Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner told the BBC today that continued membership of the customs union after Brexit would be a “disaster,” despite Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer urging May to keep retention of customs union membership “on the table”.
“You leave the customs union because only member states of the European Union are members of the customs union,” Gardiner told Westminster Hour.
“Other countries, like Turkey, have a separate customs union agreement. But the trouble with that is it gives you an asymmetrical relationship with the countries, the third party countries, that the EU does a deal with.
“So the EU could do a deal with another country, let’s say America, which we would be bound by in the UK, we would have to accept the liberalisation of our markets, we would have to accept their goods coming into our markets on the terms agreed by Europe, which could be prejudicial to us.
“But we would not have the same access into America’s markets. We would be bound to try to negotiate it but why would America give us that access when it’s got all the liberalisation of our markets that it wants. It’s a disaster.”
However, when asked last month whether Britain could stay in the customs union, Starmer said “yes” and added: “The question is do we leave options on the table, and I’ve said repeatedly — yes, let’s leave options on the table.”
Here is an official govt list of members of the Single Market inc non-EU countries Iceland, Lichtenstein & Norway https://t.co/uHZ7MtLOWH /2 pic.twitter.com/VVqtu2XMBt
— Chuka Umunna (@ChukaUmunna) July 23, 2017