Labour launches push for Brexit deal retaining single market benefits

Labour will push for a "new single market" deal for the UK after Brexit as the Government faces crunch votes in the Commons next week.

Jeremy Corbyn's frontbench has tabled amendments to the Brexit Bill which would call 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 sought by a vocal group of Labour MPs after the Lords backed a Norway-style membership of the European Economic Area.

But the measure - which has been tabled as an alternative to the Lords amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - is aimed at delivering the same benefits as single market membership.

Labour leader Mr Corbyn said: "We are confident we can build a new relationship with the EU. We want the UK to have a better deal than the Norway model."

It is understood Labour MPs will abstain on the Lords EEA amendment but will be asked to back the party's call for a "bespoke" deal which would see shared UK-EU institutions and regulations.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: "Labour will only accept a Brexit deal that delivers the benefits of the single market and protects jobs and living standards.

"Unlike the Tories, Labour will not sacrifice jobs and the economy in the pursuit of a reckless and extreme interpretation of the referendum result.

"Existing single market agreements that the EU has negotiated with third countries, including Norway, are bespoke deals negotiated with the EU to serve the best interests of those countries.

"We need to learn from them and negotiate our own more ambitious agreement, which serves our economic interests and which prevents a hard border in Northern Ireland.

"Two years on from the referendum it is clear that the Government has no plan for how it will protect jobs and the economy, and guarantee no hard border in Northern Ireland.

"Labour's amendment, along with a commitment to negotiate a new comprehensive customs union with the EU, is a strong and balanced package that would retain the benefits of the single market.

"Parliament should have the opportunity to debate and vote on it."

In a sign that some Labour MPs will still push for full single market membership, Chuka Umunna - a supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign - said: "All the way through the passage of this Bill, the only amendments which have commanded support on both sides of the House and passed are cross-party backbench ones.

"So, if we are serious about 'protecting full access to the internal market of the EU' and ensuring 'no new impediments to trade', logic dictates Labour MPs should be whipped to support the cross-party EEA amendment sent to us by the House of Lords."

Mrs May will seek to overturn the changes to her flagship Brexit legislation introduced in the Lords in a showdown in the Commons next week.

Without an overall majority, the PM is expected to spend the coming days trying to sweet-talk and strong-arm potential rebels who could inflict defeat on some of the Government's key Brexit positions.

Mrs May's decision to squeeze Commons consideration of the 15 Lords amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill into a single 12-hour day on June 12 provoked an angry reaction on the opposition benches.

Labour industry spokeswoman Chi Onwurah branded it "astounding", accusing the Government of "showing its contempt for democracy, our future economy and parliamentary sovereignty", while the Scottish National Party's Drew Hendry said the timetable was driven by "Tory self-interest".

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Among the changes backed by peers are a requirement to negotiate a future customs union arrangement and a "meaningful role" for Parliament after the exit talks are complete.

Meanwhile, disagreement with Britain's decision to quit the European Union has reached its highest point since the 2016 Brexit referendum, according to a new poll.

The YouGov survey found 47% of voters thought the decision to leave was wrong, against just 40% who said it was the right thing to do - the widest margin since the weekly survey began two years ago.

The 47% who told YouGov the Brexit decision was wrong was up three points on last week and equalled the highest figure since the tracker poll began in August 2016. The 40% saying the decision was right was down three points since last week and the lowest yet recorded.

Some 73% of Labour voters and 83% of Lib Dems said the Brexit decision was wrong, while 69% of Conservative voters said it was right. Some 81% of those who backed Leave in 2016 said they still believed it was the right decision, with 9% now saying it was wrong.

A majority (62%) said the Government was handling Brexit negotiations badly, against 23% who thought it was doing well.

Those backing the Brexit decision have outnumbered those who think it was wrong in the regular survey on only one occasion since July 2017.

- YouGov interviewed 1,670 voters for The Times weekly tracker poll on May 28 and 29.