Confusion Over The Labour Party’s Position On Single Market Membership

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn - Flickr/Chatham House

The Labour Party went into the General Election promising an end to freedom of movement of EU nationals, while maintaining “maximum access” to the Single Market.

The manifesto states that “freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union. Britain’s immigration system will change, but Labour will not scapegoat migrants nor blame them for economic failures.”

Ending freedom of movement will inevitably mean a departure, of some sort, from the single market, as senior EU figures have ruled out the idea of Britain benefiting from some of the freedoms the Single Market offers while removing itself from others.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel labelled such proposals as “cherry picking” and said Britain cannot both be in the single market and end freedom of movement.

“The four basic freedoms must be safeguarded – freedom of movement for people, goods, services and financial market products. Only then can there be access to the single market,” Merkel said.

This means that, by promising to end freedom of movement, the Labour Party’s manifesto also pledges to take Britain out of the single market, a view confirmed by shadow Chancellor John McDonnell on Peston on Sunday.

“I can’t see it [membership of the single market] even being on the table in the negotiations, I don’t think it’s feasible,” said John McDonnell, adding that he thinks “people will interpret membership of the single market as not respecting that referendum.”

But other Labour MPs today appeared to contradict the shadow Chancellor, and confuse Labour’s message on Single Market membership.

Prominent moderate Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, appeared to contradict John McDonnell’s view on membership of the single market, and the Labour Party’s manifesto pledge to end freedom of movement.

Former shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna told Radio 4 that Labour should seek a “fair-movement” deal, where access to the single market is maintained and, while semi-restricted, freedom of movement should continue.

During the election campaign, Mr. Umunna told his constituents that he “will be fighting for the UK to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union.” He was not the only Labour backbencher who held this view.

A more senior Labour MP, Barry Gardiner, who takes a seat in the shadow Cabinet, said that Britain should seek to remain in the single market, albeit a reformed one. A direct contradiction to John McDonnell’s statement just a day before.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has not commented on the matter since the general election campaign.

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