The UK could stay in the EU single market ‘permanently’ despite Brexit, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson has declared.
In what appeared to be a toughening of his party’s stance against a ‘hard Brexit’, Watson suggested remaining in the trade bloc for good was crucial for jobs and prosperity of ordinary Britons.
He told BBC’s Newsnight that Labour was now ‘the party of soft Brexit’.
Jeremy Corbyn said in July that the UK would not remain in the single market because it is “inextricably linked” with EU membership.
But Corbyn recently agreed the party should change tack and Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer unveiled a new policy that Labour was now committed to keeping the UK in the single market and the EU customs union during any transitional period.
He also left open the possibility of it being a permanent arrangement.
Watson told the BBC that continued membership of the single market - which removes the need for tariffs on goods coming in and out of the EU - could yet be a “permanent outcome” of the talks with Brussels.
Asked whether Labour would be happy calling itself the “party of soft Brexit”, Mr Watson replied: “Yes, yes. you’ve seen Keir Starmer’s statement.
“We think being part of the customs union and the single market is important in those transitional times because that’s the way you protect jobs and the economy and it might be a permanent outcome of the negotiations, but we’ve got to see how those negotiations go.”
Watson’s remarks came after the latest round of Brussels talks ended in acrimony, with EU negotiator Michel Barnier branding Britain “nostalgic” and calling its Brexit demands “impossible”.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox also hit out at “blackmail” attempts by the EU to extract billions from the UK as part of its divorce bill.