Jeremy Corbyn has provoked confusion over Labour’s Brexit position by suggesting the UK could remain a member of the EU’s single market indefinitely after leaving the bloc.
The Labour leader appeared to soften Labour’s stance on the issue, saying he wanted the UK to “trade within the single market” after Brexit.
He said it was “open for discussion” as to whether this should involve formal membership.
“I want a relationship which allows us to trade within the single market,” said Mr Corbyn, when asked about the UK’s long-term arrangements with the EU.
“Whether that’s formal membership – which is only possible, I believe, if you are actually a member of the EU – or whether it’s an agreed trading relationship, is open for discussion,” the Labour leader told BBC Radio 4’s World at One show.
The remarks were seized upon as an apparent shift in position from the Labour leader, who in July said Britain would – eventually – leave the single market alongside the EU.
Labour announced last month it wanted continued membership of the single market and customs union during a transitional period, lasting as long as four years.
But it has not been clear what the party wants after an interim deal.
Sir Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, has said the party is “flexible” on the issue.
Norway, Iceland and Lichenstein are all outside of the EU but are inside the single market.
Mr Corbyn’s spokesperson later issued a clarification, insisting the party’s position had not changed.
“We won’t be ‘members’ of the single market after transition,” they said.
“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 to.”
In response to Mr Corbyn’s comments, Tory MP and Brexit supporter James Cleverly said: “Fourteen months on from the referendum vote and Labour are still yet to set out a clear position on Brexit – the single most important issue facing our country.
“Labour continue to remain divided, changing their stance from one minute to the next.
“Today, in the very same interview, Jeremy Corbyn changed Labour’s position on staying in the single market twice.
“Can anyone keep up?”
Mr Corbyn’s intervention came after Britain’s Trade Union Congress (TUC) said on Monday the UK should stay in the single market after Brexit in order to protect jobs.
Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, urged politicians not to box themselves in as she warned that the UK was hurtling towards a “kamikaze Brexit”.
“We have set out our tests for the Brexit deal working people need,” she added.
“Staying in the single market and customs union would deliver it.”