Jeremy Corbyn has risked further angering Labour backbenchers who want the UK to remain in the single market by repeating the claim that this would be impossible once the country had left the EU.
The Labour leader said on Sunday morning that “leaving the EU means you leave the single market”, a claim which has angered members of his own party who point to non-EU members Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland.
It is not the first time Corbyn has made the suggestion, but Labour MPs are becoming increasingly frustrated with his position.
Corbyn also refused to rule out backing a second referendum on EU membership when appearing on ITV’s Peston on Sunday, saying the party was “not supporting or calling for a second referendum”.
“What we have called for is a meaningful vote in parliament and that is the one area I think parliament has asserted itself in the vote before Christmas,” he said.
But pressed on ITV’s Peston on Sunday programme whether that meant Labour would “never support a second referendum” in the future, Corbyn avoided the question. “We are not calling for one either,” he replied.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna told Sky News shortly after Corbyn’s comment on the single market: “In terms of the notion you have to be in the EU to be part of the single market, that is not correct.
“Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland fully participate in the single market but they are not members of the EU. There is no reason why the UK, if we leave, should not have that kind of relationship.”
Chris Leslie, a former shadow chancellor, was also unimpressed with Corbyn.
And former Cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw made a similar point.
Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader and Scottish first minister, accused Corbyn of attempting to “mislead people”.
However a Labour source argued that Umunna and others were confusing access to the single market, which requires Norway to accept the rules without having a say in creating them, with membership of the single market.
The comments came after Labour MP Wes Streeting said the party was now the “single biggest barrier” to Britain remaining in the single market.
He said if the Labour leadership committed to staying in the trading arrangement it would be a “game-changing moment” in British politics as it would command a majority of cross-party MPs.
Labour has also been urged to join a cross-party bid to keep the UK in the single market and customs union after Brexit. The SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Greens have joined forces to back an amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill when it returns to the Commons this week.
Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, suggested on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Labour could end up supporting a second vote if it became clear a substantial proportion of the public backed remaining in the EU.
“As for a second referendum, the question is are you talking about the divorce or the final relationship, because the final relationship will be agreed in many years’ time,” she said.
“In either case, if 90% of the population was now saying we should stay in the EU and we must not leave, then that would be a challenge that would be there for all of us who are democrats.
“But at the moment, and as things currently stand, we proceed in good faith, we do as we are instructed. We are leaving the EU.”
Nigel Farage surprised both Remain and Leave supporting politicians on Thursday when he said he could back a second referendum in order to secure the Brexit vote.
In an interview with The Observer today, the former Ukip leader said he was worried Brexiteers could “lose the historic victory” they won in 2016 as “The Remain side are making all the running”.
Theresa May has said holding a second referendum would be “betraying the British people”
A ComRes poll for the Daily Mirror suggested public opinion on Brexit has shifted and if a second vote was held 55% would vote to remain in the EU and 45% to leave.
Among Labour voters 64% are in favour of a second referendum with 31% against. However the survey said only 18% of Tory voters want a second poll and 79% were against.
James Cleverly, the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party said: “Once again the very top of Labour, this time Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry, have failed to rule out a second referendum.
“Every step of the way Labour are trying to frustrate the Brexit process rather than make a success of it.”
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer yesterday tried to play down divisions in Labour on remaining in the single market after EU withdrawal.
Sir Keir said he wanted the same trade outcomes as backbench critics calling for the party to campaign to stay in the single market and customs union.
“If you were to ask the vast majority of Labour Party people what do you actually want to achieve, rather than the label, we’d all be in huge agreement,” he said.