LONDON — Jeremy Corbyn has refused to confirm whether a Labour government would take Britain out of the single market and customs union as part of Brexit, following talks in Brussels with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator.
When asked by ITV News on Thursday whether Labour was in favour of staying in the single market and customs union, the Labour leader said: “What we’re in favour of is a tariff-free trading relationship with Europe in the future and that’s as far as we’ve got.”
Corbyn was in Brussels alongside Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott for discussions with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier about what Labour wants Brexit to look like.
“Labour has extended the hand of partnership for a new relationship with Europe and we outlined how our goal of a jobs-first Brexit deal would protect our mutual trading interests,” Corbyn told journalists in Brussels.
Corbyn failed to clarify his position on the EU’s key institutions when pushed by ITV’s Carl Dinnen, saying: “What it means is we negotiate to achieve the best possible deal for Britain, which has to be a trade relationship with Europe which enables our manufacturing and service industries to continue trading with Europe.”
Watch Corbyn dodge ITV’s question on the single market and customs union:
The single market is the EU’s 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, though, member states must comply with the EU’s ‘four freedoms’ — the free, unlimited movement of goods, services, capital and people between all member states.
Both Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell have both ruled out staying in the single market since the election. McDonnell told ITV’s Robert Peston last month he couldn’t “see” staying in the single market “even being on the table in the negotiations,” adding “I don’t think it’s feasible.”
Corbyn last month sacked three Labour frontbenchers for voting in favour on an amendment tabled by MP Chuka Umunna calling for the government to keep Britain in the single market as part of Britain’s departure from the EU.
However, his most recent remarks suggest a change in position, with Britain retaining its membership of the single market now seemingly back on the table as possible Labour Party policy.
The meeting between Corbyn and Barnier lasted two and a half hours and allowed Labour to set out their position on the future relationship between the UK and the EU, which has grown in significance since Prime Minister Theresa May lost her majority in parliament.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer told the Guardian: “It was an opportunity for us to have a pretty frank exchange of positions and an opportunity to dive into some of the issues that arise out of that. Hopefully, it is the first of a number of meetings, so we will be able to continue that process.”
YouGov research published yesterday showed that over two-thirds of Brits believe Corbyn and other opposition leaders should be involved in negotiating Britain’s divorce from the EU alongside May’s Conservative government.
Barnier also had meetings with Scottish and Welsh First Ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones, who have threatened they cannot support the repeal bill in its current form.