Usually when an official party spokesman has to issue a statement ‘clarifying’ what a politician meant to say in a radio interview, you can take it as a sign that something has gone wrong. However, not for Jeremy Corbyn – who appears to have mastered the art of clever* misspeaking
Appearing on The World At One this afternoon, the Labour leader appeared to shed some light on his party’s ever-changing Brexit position. With Labour MPs broadly united behind a transition period in which the UK remains a member of the single market, Corbyn suggested that they could go one step further: the UK could continue to be a member even after Britain has properly left the EU.
Martha Kearney: The TUC wants the UK to stay in the single market permanently. Could we stay in indefinitely?
Jeremy Corbyn: I obviously meet with the TUC. There has to be a trade relationship with Europe whether that is formally within the single market or that is an agreement to trade within the single market, I think, is open for discussion.
Martha Kearney: So we could be like Norway and stay in the single market indefinitely?
Jeremy Corbyn: The major manufacturing industries in Britain all have huge supply chains. There has to be an agreement that those relationships can continue..
As hacks began to get excited at what seemed to be more softening of Labour’s Brexit position, a party spokesman got in touch to ruin the fun:
‘Our position hasn’t changed. We won’t be “members” of the single market after the transition. We want to achieve full tariff free access to the single market. That could be achieved by a new relationship with the single market or a bespoke trade deal with the EU, which was what Jeremy was referring too.’
So, is this another ‘Labour Brexit shambles’? Probably not. Although Corbyn appeared to suggest a completely different position to his party’s actual position (though what ‘full tariff free access to the single market’ without membership really means is anyone’s guess), it’s unlikely to do him much harm.
So far, Labour have managed to keep many Brexiteers and Remainers on side by not being clear about their position. Every time one of the shadow cabinet gives an interview, hacks and politicos try and work out what it means in technical terms – even though the people saying it aren’t sure themselves. It might be intentional, it might be incompetent – either way fudging the party’s position is more likely to win votes than the alternative. Indeed, the party’s boldest move – to vote against tonight’s second reading of the EU withdrawal bill – has proved the most risky as it is easier for the Tories to attack than all of these slightly contradictory statements.
*May not be intentional