Key Corbyn ally steals Boris Johnson's infamous 'have cake and eat it' line on Brexit

Rob Merrick

A key Jeremy Corbyn ally has aped Boris Johnson by admitting Labour’s Brexit policy is to “have our cake and eat it”.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, the Shadow Business Secretary, uttered the notorious phrase as she failed to clear up confusion about Labour’s stance on membership of the EU single market and customs union.

Ms Long-Bailey said it would be “fantastic” to be able to remain within the single market, but also described that outcome as “probably unlikely”.

“We want to have our cake and eat it, as do most parties in Westminster,” she told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme.

The comment will fuel criticism that Labour’s stance on what can be achieved in the withdrawal talks is as contradictory and over-ambitious as that of the Government.

The “have our cake and eat it” pledge – used by the Foreign Secretary during the referendum campaign – suggests Britain can leave the single market, yet retain barrier-free trade with the EU.

EU leaders have repeatedly made clear this will not be possible, as they seek to defend the bloc’s huge trading advantages for its members.

Ms Long-Bailey said Labour was determined to “respect the result of the referendum, respect the will of the people in terms of having greater control over our laws, greater control over our borders”.

Worries over the free movement of people and control over laws was “one of the key positions that was set out in the referendum,” she told the programme.

“If we could negotiate an agreement on remaining within the single market that dealt with all of those issues then that would be fantastic,” Ms Long-Bailey said.

But she added: “I think that’s probably unlikely and we’ll have to be looking at a more flexible approach that maintains the benefits that we currently have in the single market whilst perhaps not being a member.”

On the customs union, the Shadow Business Secretary said: “Again, the position is very similar. We want to maintain the benefits that we currently have within the customs union.

“We want to have our cake and eat it, as do most parties in Westminster.”

Asked if that put her in the same position as Mr Johnson, she replied: “We need to be flexible. We’ve got to not cut our nose off to spite our face.”

Part of this, she said, should be an attempt for the UK to keep the benefits of the customs union, while also being able to negotiate its trade deals.

Asked if such an approach was untenable, Ms Long-Bailey said: “That’s the whole point of negotiations. Not to be untenable, but to negotiate the position.

“Our end goal is to maintain the benefits we currently have as part of the customs union and the single market.”

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman, said: “Labour’s Brexit position is so indistinguishable from the Conservatives that they have started parroting Boris Johnson.

“It is not surprising as Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly ordered his MPs to sit on their hands, over and over again failing to offer opposition to the Conservatives extreme Brexit agenda.