Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
7 September 2016

Why Jeremy Corbyn has refused to back European single market membership

The Labour leader will not support continued UK membership without significant reforms. 

By George Eaton

What does Brexit really mean? After parliament’s return, all sides are being forced to provide greater clarity. Labour sources have today revealed for the first time that Jeremy Corbyn does not support automatic UK membership of the single market. They emphasised his opposition to “damaging” rules such as state aid restrictions and said only that he favoured “full access” for goods and services”. Should the EU fail to radically reform the market, Labour is likely to oppose membership. In parliament, Corbyn denounced Theresa May’s support for open markets as “free trade dogma”. 

The Labour leader’s stance is, in some respects, unsurprising. He has opposed every major European treaty since voting against EEC membership in 1975 and the left has long loathed the single market as a Thatcherite creation (it was the Conservative prime minister who signed the Single European Act in 1986).

Corbyn’s position conflicts with that of the Scottish government, London mayor Sadiq Khan and many Labour MPs, all of whom are pushing for the UK to retain single market membership. But it aligns with that of most Conservative MPs who are opposed to single market membership unless the UK is granted significant control over free movement. This concession, as the experience of Norway and Switzerland testifies, is highly unlikely. With this in mind, Brexit secretary David Davis stated on Monday that it was “improbable” that the Britain would retain membership if this entailed “giving up control of our borders”.

But a spokeswoman for Theresa May subsequently contradicted his stance, emphasising that it was “his view” and that “the Prime Minister’s view is that we should be ambitious and go after the best deal we can”. Challenged on the subject at PMQs by the SNP’s Angus Robertson, May said she would not provide a “running commentary” on the negotiations and stated only that she would get “the right deal”. This, she said, would involve both “the trade of goods and services with the EU” and “control of the movement of people”. 

The government is echoing Boris Johnson’s stance on cake: “pro-having it and pro-eating it”. But it is one the EU, which hopes to deter other member states from departing, is unlikely to respect. Corbyn’s hostility towards the single market both reflects the past and anticipates the future. 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them