Labour's single market rift: Starmer says 'no case' for rejoining despite call from Khan

29 June 2022, 12:33 | Updated: 29 June 2022, 12:37

Keir Starmer said the UK should not rejoin the EU common market, whilst Sadiq Khan said it should
Keir Starmer said the UK should not rejoin the EU common market, whilst Sadiq Khan said it should. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

A rift has been driven down the heart of the Labour party after the leader and the mayor of London disagreed on whether the UK should rejoin the EU single market.

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Speaking to LBC, Sir Keir Starmer said there was "no case" for returning to the single market, the common market allowing for the free movement of goods, services and people within the bloc's member states.

But at the State of London debate on Tuesday, when asked by LBC's James O'Brien whether the Labour party should be campaigning for rejoining, Sadiq Khan said: "I believe we should. Spot on."

He branded Brexit as "biggest piece of self-inflicted harm ever done to a country".

Read more: Britain must rejoin single market, Sadiq Khan says as he slams Brexit

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When asked whether he agreed with Mr Khan, Sir Keir told LBC: "There's no case for returning to the EU or to the single market, but there's no point pretending that the deal that the government's negotiated is working because it obviously isn't working.

"You can see the queues at ports across the country, you can see the problems in Northern Ireland, and all the government ever did was shout the slogan 'get Brexit done'.

"A responsible government, a Labour government, the next government, will make Brexit work and that's what I'm absolutely focussed on.

"So there's no case for return but there is absolutely a case for making Brexit work rather than just a slogan which isn't helping anyone."

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The single market was a key point of contention during Brexit negotiations.

Remaining in it would enable free trade between the EU and the UK, but would also allow for the free movement of people, something ardent Brexiteers were eager to control.

Saqid Khan said the UK should rejoin the EU single market
Saqid Khan said the UK should rejoin the EU single market. Picture: Alamy

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood was slammed by his colleagues by suggesting the UK could benefit for rejoining the UK's single market.

The Bournemouth East MP, who chairs the Commons Defence Committee, said there was "appetite" for a rethink and claimed polling indicates "this is not the Brexit most people imagined".

Read more: 'Is that the best you can do?': LBC challenges Jacob Rees-Mogg on 'post-Brexit freedoms'

Read more: Brexit will reduce UK productivity and wages in decade ahead, says report

Sir Keir said there was "no case" for returning to the single market
Sir Keir said there was "no case" for returning to the single market. Picture: Alamy

He added that "more radical thinking is required if we are to energise our economy through these stormy waters" and that single market membership would resolve the issue surrounding the Irish border and promote Britain's European "credentials".

And while he admitted the free movement of people required under single market rules produced "understandable reservations" regarding benefit claims, he said the issue was not "insurmountable".

"If joining the single market (with conditions) results in strengthening our economy, easing the cost-of-living crisis, settling the Irish problem at a stroke and promoting our European credentials as we take an ever greater lead in Ukraine, would it not be churlish to face this reality?" He wrote in the House magazine.

But his Conservative colleagues in Parliament hit out at his suggestion.

Treasury minister Simon Clarke said he was "pleased to reassure Mr Ellwood" that Britain would not rejoin the single market, which he said would "extinguish half the freedoms that make Brexit so important".

Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said: "Let's plan for the future and stop looking back. This decision is made."

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Former chief whip Mark Harper said: "The UK voted to leave the EU. That meant leaving the single market and putting an end to freedom of movement. The end."

Lord Frost, the ex-Brexit minister, said of Mr Ellwood, who has withdrawn his support from Boris Johnson: "Brexit really is not safe in his hands or his allies'."

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