Jeremy Corbyn has seemingly contradicted himself in a matter of minutes over his position on the single market and Brexit.
Speaking ahead of a key vote on the second reading of the Government’s EU (Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Commons, the Labour leader appeared to suggest he supported membership of the single market (which would only be possible with continued membership of the EU) whilst going on to assert he wanted to respect the result of the referendum.
Asked about Labour’s plans following the implementation period, this is what Mr Corbyn told BBC Radio 4’s World at One.
We want a relationship which allows us to trade within the single market. Whether that’s formal membership – which is only possible, I believe, if you are actually a member of the EU – or whether it’s an agreed trading relationship, is open for discussion.
Despite this clearly suggesting he is therefore “open” to the idea of Britain not leaving the EU, Mr Corbyn went on to say in the same interview:
“There was a referendum and I think we have to respect the result of the referendum.”
And some people are confused.
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Amid the confusion, a spokesman for the Labour leader insisted the party’s position had not changed.
“We won’t be ‘members’ of the single market after the transition,” said the spokesman. “We want to achieve full tariff-free access to the single market. That could be achieved by a new relationship with the single market or a bespoke trade deal with the EU.”
However, in June, when he was asked whether Brexit meant an end to single market membership, Jeremy Corbyn told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “Absolutely.”
And, later that day, shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said of single market membership: “I can’t see it even being on the table in the negotiations, I don’t think it’s feasible.”
So what does Labour stand for?
The party announced last month it favoured continued membership of the single market and customs union during a transition period lasting as long as four years after the formal Brexit date of March 2019.
But the party is yet to announce a firm policy for the longer term, with shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer saying Labour was “flexible” on the issue.
Mr Corbyn has argued that Britain should not break off its close contact with EU institutions which enable cross-border co-operation on a wide range of issues.
“I want to build a relationship with Europe and I want to work in Europe – a Europe that works for the many, not for the few – and remain a member of European institutions,” he said.
“We are obviously going to be forever signed up, I hope, to the European Court of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.
“But there are many other EU-related agencies that we should be members of and ensure that this close relationship of manufacturing industry and universities remains and the close relationship of peoples across Europe remains.”
And what about trade?
Mr Corbyn has said he does not believe it would be possible for the UK to reach a new trade deal with the EU by March 2019, but declined to put a timeframe on the transition period, saying only it should last “for as long as necessary and as short as possible”.
“The Leave date is set as March 2019,” the Labour leader told World at One. “I don’t see how it is possible to reach agreement on all the trade issues which are so necessary between now and then.”
He warned of a “very damaging effect to a huge amount of industries in this country, manufacturing as well as financial services” if the UK is allowed to crash out of the EU without a deal in 2019 and forced to fall back on World Trade Organisation rules and tariffs.
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