UK Labour party split widens over Brexit policy

Andy jalil – andyjalil@aol.com – Divisions within Britain’s Labour party have been exposed over Brexit deals as senior members of the party have been contradicting each other while MPs have been criticising the leadership. First Minister for Wales, Carwyn Jones, has insisted the Single Market was essential for farmers and a boon to the wider UK economy, putting him at odds with the party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Jones said: “If we were not in the Single Market we’d be having a debate about having to access it, not how to leave it.” And just 24 hours earlier Corbyn had said Britain must leave the Single Market because it is “inextricably linked” to EU membership — a claim that was refuted on his own backbenches. Jones was backed by MPs including Chuka Umunna, the Shadow Minister for Business and Enterprise, who said he was “absolutely right” and Ben Bradshaw, who said it underscored the “importance for jobs and prosperity of staying in the Single Market.”
He was also supported by Scottish Labour. A spokesman said: “As Kezia Dugdale (leader of Scottish Labour) has repeatedly said, we support tariff-free access to the Single Market for the UK. Jobs, the economy and retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the customs union are our priority.” However, that is not the position of shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner, who said it would be a “disaster” for the UK to remain in the Single Market, echoing the argument put forward by the party leader.
Gardiner also said the UK would become a “vassal state” of Brussels if it adopted a Norwegian-style relationship with the EU. “You actually end up paying money into the EU budget but you have less control over the regulations than you do now with a seat round the table,” he said. Gardiner spoke out against the customs union — which Brexit secretary Keir Starmer has said should remain “on the table” — saying it would lead to an “asymmetric relationship”.
The difference of opinion left some MPs wondering and former Labour MP Michael Dugher tweeted: “I literally have no idea what Labour’s position is on Brexit, Single Market, customs union, freedom of movement etc. Creative ambiguity?” A senior Labour party source added: “The truth is that it’s unclear what our position is (on the Single Market and customs union).”
Gardiner and Corbyn are also at odds with Labour backers including trade unions. A Unite spokesman said: “We are looking for access to the Single Market and a customs union arrangement in order to secure the frictionless trade on which so many of our members’ jobs depend.”
A Trade Union Congress (TUC) spokesman added: “Remaining in the Single Market seems the best way to protect jobs and workers’ rights into the future, but all possibilities should be considered.” The division emerged as a new Ipsos Mori poll revealed an increasing number of people regard the Single Market as the number one priority for Brexit negotiations.
The poll suggested almost eight out of ten Labour voters want to stay in the Single Market. Corbyn’s view has become increasingly unclear. He may have played a difficult hand well (with support) during the snap election called by the Prime Minister Theresa May — the unexpected result of which left her shocked — but Corbyn is starting to fumble again it would appear.
His apparent enthusiasm for a hard Brexit is increasingly obvious, and at odds with the views of much of his own party, its voters, and even its large number of Corbynite supporters. Many young Corbyn-backers admire his 1970s-style socialist talk and views, but few of the younger generation see European Union integration as a Thatcherite ploy, in the way that Corbyn and his ‘left-hand’ man John McDonnell have done for several decades.
Alongside his recent U-turn on student debt — his denial after indicating that these could be written off — could his stance on Brexit start to weaken supporter base of young voters and erode the party’s gains of 30-odd seats in the polls? The Labour party leader may have been riding high since the June election but he must by now realise that in politics things can change quite rapidly. Certainly the prime minister is now feeling that too while attempting to keep her ministers in line particularly with recent leaks from meetings.