Jeremy Corbyn is under mounting pressure to allow Labour MPs and peers to back a bid to keep the UK in the single market after Brexit.
The party hierarchy was accused of “cowardice” and adopting a “ridiculous” position by telling peers not to support a call for the Government to negotiate a Norway-style Brexit within the European Economic Area (EEA).
Former shadow cabinet minister Chuka Umunna said it would “go against Labour’s progressive values” not to back the move in Parliament on Tuesday.
But shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said such an arrangement would reduce the UK to being a “rule taker” without a seat at the table when decisions on regulations are made.
And shadow chancellor John McDonnell insisted the party must promise a “traditional British compromise”, balancing the interests of Leave and Remain voters.
If @BarryGardiner prevents Labour voting for EEA Single Market, then he will be just as responsible for hard #Brexit, job losses & fall in tax revenues that follow. Heâll have zero credibility to complain of cuts & austerity heâll have enabled. Please overrule him @Keir_Starmer ? https://t.co/OGr4ICRh5f— Chris Leslie (@ChrisLeslieUK) May 6, 2018
Pro-EU Labour parliamentarians have reacted with fury over the party’s refusal to support Lords amendments which would require the Government to negotiate EEA membership.
Mr Umunna, a supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign, said staying in the single market was “important in avoiding a return to a hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
“Given the numbers of Conservative MPs now supporting the UK continuing to participate in the EEA, Labour is looking a gift horse in the mouth.
“We can keep the UK in the EEA – and its protections for workers, consumers and the environment – by supporting this move.
“We know the damage leaving the single market will do to our economy, to public services and to our NHS, so it would go against Labour’s progressive values for the party not to vote in favour of these amendments tabled by Lord Alli, a leading equalities campaigner, in the Lords.”
Alison McGovern, co-chair of the Labour Campaign for the Single Market, said: “The Government’s own analysis shows that crashing out of the single market will cause a crippling hit to our economy, which is why it made no sense for Theresa May to rule out single market membership before the Brexit negotiations had even started.
“If passed, these amendments in the Lords would be a big step forward in avoiding a hard and destructive Brexit, which is why all Labour Peers should get behind them.”
Labour’s Lord Alli, one of the signatories to the amendment, accused the party leadership of “complete cowardice” by ordering Labour peers to abstain.
Ex-shadow chancellor Chris Leslie hit out at Mr Gardiner, saying if he blocked the EEA vote he would share responsibility for “hard Brexit”.
Labour MP Wes Streeting said: “I think it is incredible that Labour seems to be the biggest stumbling block to remaining in the single market.”
He told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “I hope we will get some movement on this.”
.@wesstreeting says it is âincredibleâ that Labour appears to be the biggest stumbling block to remaining in the single market. He adds that is not a âmorally, principally, justifiable positionâ. pic.twitter.com/4TIHcj5PEK— Peston (@itvpeston) May 6, 2018
But Mr Gardiner, who has said the EEA model would leave the UK a “vassal state” of the EU, told the BBC’s Sunday Politics: “The EEA option would actually have less control, we would be bound by the regulations but we would have no seat at the table in deciding what those regulations were.”
He added: “We should not vote for a substantive amendment that talks about staying in the EEA.”
Mr McDonnell told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “What people want is a traditional British compromise.
“Respect the referendum result, but get the best deal you can to protect our economy and protect our jobs.”
âThe government canât even bring that legislation forward because they are terrified of their own backbenchers and losing.â@johnmcdonnellMP speaking to @AndrewMarr9 #marr pic.twitter.com/IGAiyYG4Ou— The Andrew Marr Show (@MarrShow) May 6, 2018
That meant being in “a customs union” and remaining “close to the single market”.