Labour Eyeing Brexit Shift to Get Close to EU Single Market

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. opposition Labour Party is inching toward a shift in its Brexit position and moving closer to the European Union’s single market, according to two senior members of leader Jeremy Corbyn’s team.

Corbyn, a lifelong euroskeptic, is under pressure from his members of parliament, the majority of whom opposed leaving the EU and now want to stay as close as possible. Many of the younger Labour members who joined for the love of him also support staying close.

Labour Eyeing Brexit Shift to Get Close to EU Single Market

Corbyn has so far resisted calls to try to keep Britain in the single market. Part of the problem is that it might prevent him from doing some of the things he’s promised, such as taking some businesses into state ownership. His spokesman said Wednesday that the EU’s state aid rules were problematic.

But senior Labour lawmakers, including one member of the shadow cabinet, said privately they believed there was room for Corbyn’s position to shift. They pointed out he has already moved, accepting only in February that Britain should seek a customs union with the EU.

Three months on Corbyn is feeling the heat after the upper chamber passed a series of amendments to the government’s Brexit legislation, including one urging the government to stay in the European Economic Area. Labour peers were told to abstain but many defied the order and voted in favor.

Wiggle Room

Asked whether Labour would support that amendment when the bill returned to the House of Commons, Corbyn’s spokesman declined to answer.

Corbyn left himself some wiggle room to come around to the single market. In the speech where he announced his changed view on the customs union, Corbyn had said he wanted “a new and strong relationship” with the single market.

The member of his shadow cabinet said the party needed to flesh out what this would mean, and that in the process of doing so, they would be urging Labour to get as close as possible. But they added that EEA membership wouldn’t be the right solution.

John McDonnell, a close political ally of Corbyn and shadow chancellor of the exchequer, said last month that the party would be willing to set aside voter demands for immigration restrictions in order to secure the best Brexit deal for business.

That would suggest looking for a close relationship with the single market.

Referendum Call

Five Labour lawmakers from the northeast of England added further complication to Corbyn’s calculations on Thursday when they called for a referendum on the final Brexit deal. Owen Smith was fired as the party’s Northern Ireland spokesman for making a similar call in March.

Jobs with companies including Nissan and Hitachi rely on membership of the EU single market and customs union, and people in the region should have another say now they know the consequences for the area’s economy, Phil Wilson, Paul Williams, Bridget Phillipson, Anna Turley and Catherine McKinnell wrote in a letter published by the Independent.

“We understand why so many people voted to leave the EU in 2016’s referendum: it was a great way of reminding a cosy London establishment that our region has been receiving a raw deal,” they wrote. “Nobody was sure what the options were. They did not appear on the ballot paper. As each day goes by new facts emerge that weren’t placed before the voters at the time of the referendum.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.