Jeremy Corbyn has made increasing Labour members’ power a defining theme of his leadership. But as I noted before the party conference began, there is one issue on which Corbyn is starkly at odds with activists: Brexit. A recent poll found that 66 per cent of Labour members believe the UK should “definitely” remain in the single market, with a further 20.7 per cent more favourable than not.
When challenged on the subject on The Andrew Marr Show, Corbyn refused to give ground. Though he emphasised that he wanted “tariff-free trade access to the European market” and promised to “listen” to activists, he sounded a sceptical note over continued single market membership. “We need to look very carefully at the terms of any trade relationship because at the moment we’re part of the single market, obviously, that has within it restrictions on state aid and state spending, that has pressures on it through the European Union to privatise rail, for example, and other services.”
Though Labour has backed continued single market membership for a Brexit “transition period”, it has not endorsed a permanent deal. Corbyn’s scepticism is unsurprising. He voted against the single market’s creation in 1986 and has often criticised it as an obstacle to socialism. Some on the left backed Brexit on these grounds (the so-called “Lexiteers”). Others, however, such as Anthony Barnett in this week’s NS, argue that the limitations imposed by the single market have been much exaggerated (French president Emmanuel Macron recently nationalised a shipyard and many European railway systems are publicly-owned).
Brexit has long threatened to be the greatest flashpoint of the Labour conference. In opposition to Corbyn’s stance, constituency parties have submitted motions backing single market membership and free movement. But Momentum, the pro-Corbyn campaign group, is urging its members not to select these topics for debate in today’s ballot.
In the Marr interview, Corbyn also refused to explicitly support or oppose potential illegal strike action. He said: “I will be with those workers demanding a decent pay rise.” Corbyn also said that he was “not sure” whether he had ever used Uber. He called on the company “to abide by the law” but declined to repeat shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey’s description of it as immoral.