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Corbyn refuses to back EU membership at muted PLP meeting

Labour leader did not receive the traditional welcome for a newly-elected head.

There was none of the desk-banging that one might expect a newly-elected Labour leader to be greeted with when Jeremy Corbyn addressed the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) for the first time tonight. Instead, Corbyn was greeted by a painful silence. This, of course, is unsurprising. Though he won the leadership election by a landslide (59.9 per cent), Corbyn did so with the support of just 14 MPs. The best that he could manage was some moderate applause when he praised Harriet Harman, Ed Miliband and the defeated candidates.

The most notable moment came when Corbyn was asked about EU membership and refused to guarantee to campaign to stay in. This contradicts shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn's earlier assertion on the Today programme that "We will be campaigning to remain in the European Union in all circumstances." Corbyn said he had concerns over the UK's commitment to the social chapter and the working time directive and did not want to give David Cameron a "blank cheque" during his renegotiation. Asked whether he would wear a poppy for Remembrance Day, Corbyn said he attended memorial events in his constituency and noted that some choose to pay respect by wearing a white poppy (suggesting he may do so). 

He also announced that the party had gained 28,000 full members since he took over, and declared that his three priorities would be housing, next May's elections in Wales and Scotland, and securing a Labour government in 2020. He pledged that he and Tom Watson would spend at least a day a month in Scotland in the run-up to the Holyrood contest (which seems rather on the low side). Corbyn also reinforced his commitment not to back the return of mandatory reselection, which some on the left hope to use to purge his opponents. But the Tories' coming boundary changes could mean many MPs automatically face selection battles. 

As before, Corbyn emphasised his desire to "debate" the most contentious issues, such as Trident and Nato, and there were few unambiguously hostile questions. But it is clear from tonight's reception that backbenchers are not going to suddenly embrace his leadership - he is on probation. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.