Jeremy Corbyn was accused by one of his own MP’s of putting a smile on the face of Nigel Farage as he defied calls to support single market membership amid splits over Labour’s Brexit policy dominating the first day of Scottish party conference.
The UK leader said it would be “wrong” to sign up to a single market deal that was incompatible with his plans to nationalise railways and end privatisation.
But he was challenged by former shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray after comments about Brexit being used to undercut wages with the importing ‘cheap labour’ from immigrants to the UK.
At a Saturday fringe, Edinburgh South MP Mr Murray said: “I was incredibly disappointed to see yesterday that the only person smiling after that passage of Jeremy’s speech yesterday would have been Nigel Farage.”
In his speech, Mr Corbyn’s outlined his stance amid anger from pro-European Union supporters, who claimed the party leadership had blocked moves to have a conference vote on single market membership.
A row over Labour’s position on Brexit erupted before Mr Corbyn stood up at Dundee’s Caird Hall on a day that was marred by a series of gaffes.
We are determined to negotiate a deal that gives us full tariff-free access to the single marketJEREMY CORBYN
Pro-single market campaigners had hoped to use a Brexit debate tomorrow to call for the UK to remain the trading bloc.
The call was supported by a new pressure group Scottish Labour for the Single Market, headed by former leader Kezia Dugdale, Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray, MEP Catherine Stihler and several constituency Labour parties.
But ahead of conference, the party’s Scottish Executive unanimously supported a “unity motion”, which contained no mention of the single market.
In his speech, Mr Corbyn said he would not sign up to the single market if doing so prevented Labour from implementing his socialist vision.
Mr Corbyn said Labour should not be held back from stopping privatisation, or preventing employers from importing “cheap agency labour to undercut existing pay and conditions, in the name of free market orthodoxy”.
The UK Labour leader said: “It would therefore be wrong to sign up to a single market deal without agreement that our final relationship with the EU would be fully compatible with our radical plans to change Britain’s economy.
“We are determined to negotiate a deal that gives us full tariff-free access to the single market.
“But if we are genuinely going to have a jobs-first Brexit, that deal must be compatible with our plans to bring the railways and postal service into full public ownership, transform energy markets and end the privatisation of our public services.
“We also need to be clear, we could not accept a situation where we were subject to all EU rules and EU law, yet had no say in making those laws.”
His speech drew an angry response from Ms Stihler, who challenged the argument that single market membership would thwart nationalisation.
Ms Stihler also took exception to Mr Corbyn’s reference to importing cheap agency labour.
She said: “The rules of the single market do not prevent public ownership. Indeed, national governments across the continent have ownership stakes in many sectors including energy, rail and water companies.
“Leaving the single market could cost the UK economy £45 billion a year, reducing the amount of money available to governments in Westminster and Holyrood. While some voters are angry about immigration, it is the job of the Labour Party to challenge anti-immigrant sentiment and promote the benefits to our economy and public services.
“There is no left-wing case for leaving the European single market. If we want to fund our radical manifestos to deliver governments for the many, not the few, we must support permanent UK membership of the European single market and the customs union.”
Earlier in the day Labour was ridiculed by its opponents when organisers misspelt the name of party founder Keir Hardie as “Keir Hardy” during an awards ceremony.
Later, shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird called on the UK government to lift “the shroud of secrecy” on the outstanding issues in the row over devolving powers from Brussels – but two hours earlier the UK government had published a list.