Keir Starmer has told Labour MPs to accept there is no majority in the Commons for keeping the United Kingdom inside the single market with membership of the European Economic Area (EEA).
The shadow Brexit secretary said the party was “very divided” and therefore there was no point in the party formally backing the amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill.
“I’m injecting some honesty about where we are in the Labour Party,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.
“The difficulty with that, and I think everybody recognises this, is that there are very strong and very different views across the PLP on that particular amendment.
“The only way we can win a vote is if we are united and all vote together at the same time.”
Starmer has instead tabled his own amendment which calls on Theresa May to make maintaining “full access” to the EU “internal market” an objective of the negotiations with Brussels.
The move stops just short of calling for the full single market membership and has infuriated many of the most pro-EU Labour MPs.
Chuka Umunna said the Labour frontbench position was in essence the same “vision” for Brexit as that set out by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Liam Fox.
He said “sheer extent of Conservative support” for EEA membership would be enough to secure a Commons majority.
Anna Soubry, one of the most pro-EU Tory MPs, also said Starmer’s amendment was essentially the same as the government position and could have been “crafted largely by Boris Johnson”.
The Commons showdown on the set for June 12 after the House of Lords rewrote significant parts of the withdrawal bill.