Jeremy Corbyn Locked In Brexit Row With Pro-EU Arm Of Scottish Labour

Jeremy Corbyn with Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard

Jeremy Corbyn was on a collision course with pro-EU Scottish Labour members on Friday after flatly ruling out EU single market membership in the wake of a row. 

The Labour leader used a speech in Dundee to declare joining the single market would be “wrong” if it blocked his “radical plans” for public ownership. 

He chose to underline the policy after the party’s ruling body banned a motion on the issue due to take place on Sunday – something which has riled the Scottish grassroots. 

Corbyn told members at Caird Hall that Labour had “its own common-sense approach” to leaving the EU, adding: “The European Union is set to make changes of its own in the coming period, especially in relation to the rules governing eurozone economies and the rights of temporary migrant workers.

“It would, therefore, be wrong to sign up to a single market deal without agreement that our final relationship with the EU would be fully compatible with our radical plans to change Britain’s economy.”

Unlike in the majority of England and Wales, however, Scotland voted by 62% for Remain.

Members of Richard Leonard’s Scottish Labour have been lobbying for a shift in position, fearing they will fail to make ground with Nicola Sturgeon’s dominant and fiercely pro-EU SNP. 

Catherine Stihler MEP, co-chair of Scottish Labour for the Single Market, hit out at Corbyn.

She said: “The rules of the single market do not prevent public ownership. “Indeed, national governments across the continent have ownership stakes in many sectors including energy, rail and water companies.

'There is no left-wing case for leaving the single market,' says Catherine Stihler MEP. 

“Leaving the single market could cost the UK economy £45bn-a-year, reducing the amount of money available to governments in Westminster and Holyrood.

“And while some voters are angry about immigration, it is the job of the Labour Party to challenge anti-immigrant sentiment and promote the benefits to our economy and public services.

“There is no left-wing case for leaving the European single market. If we want to fund our radical manifestos to deliver governments for the many, not the few, we must support permanent UK membership of the European single market and the customs union.”

The party’s ruling body defended banning the conference motion on Friday, saying the “situation regarding Brexit has changed”, with Labour recently backing a customs union with Europe.

Corbyn chose to focus much of his speech on the UK government, criticising the “utter chaos and mismanagement that is defining this Tory Brexit”.

Labour was “preparing to go into government”, he said, and would “go further than any government has ever gone before” in tackling poverty and inequality.

With Tories at Westminster and the SNP administration at Holyrood locked in a bitter dispute over what should happen to devolved powers once these are returned from Brussels, Corbyn said Theresa May’s party had “played right into the SNP’s hands in hoarding power for themselves in the back corridor of Westminster”.

On Northern Ireland, he said May’s determination to take the UK out of the single market and the customs union meant the Conservatives were “offering no clear alternative to a hard border”.

This, Corbyn claimed, “shows why a Labour government is needed so badly to steer the negotiations in a sensible direction”.