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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Labour divisions continue over Brexit

With the Queen's speech due to take place later today, despite the fact that Theresa May has proved incapable of negotiating an agreement with the DUP, it is more important than ever that Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party turns a lead in the opinion polls into a coherent opposition narrative if the Tories are to be held to account. Unfortunately, for the country and for Labour such coherence remains unattainable.

As the Independent reports, more than 30 Labour MPs have reopened the party’s split over Brexit by demanding Jeremy Corbyn campaigns to keep Britain in the single market. These rebels have urged the Labour leader not to “throw in the towel” by aping Theresa May in arguing withdrawal is inevitable when Britain leaves the EU.

They have warned that quitting the single market will extend austerity for many years after an independent forecast of a £31bn hit to the public finances. They argue that in agreeing Britain will leave the trading arrangement, Mr Corbyn is siding with a “motley crew of hard-right, pro-Brexit Tories” – including Michael Gove. Boris Johnson, John Redwood and Iain Duncan Smith:

A letter penned by the 34 MPs reads: “We must be clear – “access” to the European single market is both different and inferior to “membership” of the single market.

“Why? Because, if we leave the single market, whatever the level of access is negotiated, working people across Britain will be worse off and revenue to the exchequer will plummet – revenue the next Labour government will need to bring an end to years of damaging Tory austerity.”

And it adds: “At the very least we should strongly oppose May’s decision to take membership off the table in these negotiations.

“An ambitious and confident alternative government – with Corbyn at the helm – should not throw in the towel as May has done, but could seek membership with reforms on immigration and the other matters we seek.”

Signatories to the letter include Labour big-hitters Chuka Umunna, Maria Eagle, Liz Kendall, Stella Creasy, Pat McFadden, Ann Clwyd, Chris Bryant and Ben Bradshaw and it follows growing dismay among the MPs at Labour’s confused and – they argue – timid stance on Brexit:

In the last Parliament, Labour said it would leave the single market, voting against an amendment to the Article 50 Bill which sought to keep Britain inside.

Its election manifesto then talked of “fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union”.

In recent days, both Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer and Barry Gardiner, the trade spokesman, have hinted that Labour would try to stay in a “reformed” single market.

But John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, ruled that out, saying: “I can’t see it even being on the table in the negotiations, I don’t think it’s feasible.”

What a mess, but nevertheless evidence that those who are opposed to Brexit only have the Liberal Democrats to turn to on a UK level.
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