Labour's single market rebels vow to continue to pressure PM on Brexit

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Labour backbenchers who tabled an amendment calling for Britain to remain in the single market have vowed to continue their battle to put pressure on Theresa May, despite the sacking of three shadow ministers over the issue.

MPs including Chuka Umunna, Stephen Doughty and Kate Green won the backing of 101 MPs, including 49 Labour rebels, for their amendment to the Queen’s speech, which called for the government to abandon the idea that “no deal is better than a bad deal” in the Brexit talks. The motion demanded the government negotiate for the UK to remain in the single market and the customs union.

Doughty said: “The key issue going forward is the extent to which Conservative MPs who have significant disquiet about the direction of Theresa May’s hard Brexit are willing to put their money where their mouth is and stand up for membership of the single market and and the customs union, and other issues, in key legislation that comes forward in the coming months.”

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, asked his party to abstain from the vote; and later sacked three junior ministers – Catherine West, Daniel Zeichner and Andy Slaughter – who voted in favour.

Conservative MPs were reluctant to oppose the prime minister, but cross-party discussions involving the Scottish National party, the Liberal Democrats and Labour are under way on how best to exert leverage over the government when the legislation needed to enact Brexit comes to the Commons in the months ahead.

Concerns include the timing of the various bills, with MPs keen to ensure the government does not bind its hands in the negotiations with the EU by drawing up restrictive rules on immigration, before establishing what the tradeoffs might be.

May has been buffeted by demands to shift her position on Brexit and on a series of other issues, since her party’s parliamentary majority was wiped out in the general election.

The government was forced to promise that the NHS in England would fund abortions for women from Northern Ireland, after an amendment tabled by Labour backbencher Stella Creasy won cross-party support.

Downing Street has also hinted that the 1% cap on public sector pay increases could be lifted in the autumn budget, after a growing number of Tory MPs aired their concerns about the policy continuing.

The position laid out in the Brexit amendment differs from Labour’s manifesto, which said the party would seek to retain access to the single market, while accepting that the UK will leave the EU.

Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, believes “function, not form” is important when judging the outcome of the negotiations, which began in earnest last week.

Corbyn’s allies also believe there could be advantages to leaving the single market – including escaping state aid rules on bailouts of struggling firms, and being able to offer equal treatment in the immigration system to citizens of EU and non-EU countries.

Some of those backing the amendment were new MPs elected on 8 June, including Bristol North West’s Darren Jones. Colleagues said Jones had campaigned strongly on a pledge to try to avoid a hard Brexit and was clear that was what his voters would want him to do.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Heather Stewart Political editor, for theguardian.com on Friday 30th June 2017 11.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010