Labour could still back the “Norway model” for the UK, a shadow Brexit minister has suggested, as he said the party was “ruling nothing off the table”.
Paul Blomfield’s comments appeared to contradict Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, who earlier this week appeared to rule out membership of the European Economic Area and said the model was “not appropriate” for Britain.
Mr Blomfield said that EEA membership “has problems associated with it” but he left the door open to Labour supporting the move in comments which are likely to plunge the party’s Brexit policy into chaos.
It came as Labour prepared to use an arcane parliamentary procedure to try to secure the release of private documents prepared for Theresa May’s Brexit war Cabinet.
On Wednesday Labour will use the “humble address” device which it previously successfully utilised to force the Government to hand over Brexit impact assessments to request all the papers which have been prepared relating to the Prime Minister’s two customs options.
The push for EEA membership has gathered momentum in recent weeks after the House of Lords, David Miliband, the Labour former foreign secretary, and Erna Solberg, the Norwegian Prime Minister, backed the move.
But the hopes of Remain MPs that Labour could formally adopt the policy were dashed earlier this week after Mr Corbyn’s spokesman poured cold water on being in the EEA.
But Mr Blomfield’s comments are likely to reignite speculation that Labour could change tack.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We want to be in a new and comprehensive customs union and close to the single market.
“We think there are different ways of achieving that close relationship. The EEA has problems associated with it.”
But when asked why he would not simply say that Labour would oppose EEA membership, he replied: “We are ruling nothing off the table.
“We are concerned about the EEA as an option because there are only two routes into the EEA at the moment.
“One is through membership of the European Union which is ruled out because of the referendum, the other is through membership of EFTA which is effectively ruled out because EFTA has its own trade agreements - it would stand in the way of our desire to have a new and comprehensive customs union.”
Mr Corbyn’s spokesman said on Monday that “the Norway option is not appropriate and will not work for the kind of Brexit we want to see".
His remarks prompted one Labour MP to claim that the EEA option was “dead”.
The House of Lords successfully amended the Government's flagship Brexit legislation last week in a bid to secure membership of the EEA which would see the UK outside the EU but inside the single market.
Labour peers were told to abstain but many rebelled and the Government is expected to try to overturn the amendment when the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill returns to the House of Commons.
Labour MPs are expected to be told to abstain but many who backed Remain believe EEA membership is the UK’s best chance for a soft landing after Brexit raising the prospect of a damaging rebellion.