Jeremy Corbyn has played down the prospect of the party offering a second referendum on the Brexit deal, after Mayor of London Sadiq Khan suggested it was “possible” it might be included in the next Labour manifesto.
And in comments which may dismay Labour supporters of EU membership, the party leader said that he saw “positives” in Brexit.
In a round of TV interviews at Labour’s annual conference in Brighton, Mr Corbyn dismissed as “nonsense” the suggestion that he had tried to quash debate of Brexit, pointing to Monday’s vote in favour of a statement setting out the party’s position on EU withdrawal.
Mr Khan told the Evening Standard he would press for a commitment to a second national vote on whether to accept the Brexit deal or stay in the EU, and said it was “possible” the idea might make it into the manifesto.
And former Labour leader in Scotland Kezia Dugdale said that “we the people should take back control with a final vote on the deal”.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Corbyn stressed that Labour had always made clear it accepted and respected the result of last year’s referendum to leave the EU.
He said: “We are not planning any referendum. Sadiq is obviously thinking through all scenarios and possibilities.”
“He represents a city which overwhelmingly voted for Remain. As you know, the referendum result across the country was a majority to leave.”
Asked on Five News whether he saw any opportunities for Britain from EU withdrawal, Mr Corbyn said: “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is all going to be positive. It is going to be difficult and complicated. But there are positives there.”
EU withdrawal would allow powers to be devolved from Brussels to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and English regions, he said.
He has previously suggested that Brexit will also give him a freer hand to pursue the programme of nationalisation and support for industry envisaged in Labour’s manifesto.
Mr Corbyn said he was determined to seek a Brexit that was good for jobs and permitted continued access to the single market, rather than the vision which he said some Conservatives have of a deregulated and low tax haven off the shores of Europe.
“We have to maintain tariff-free access to the EU markets,” said Mr Corbyn. “We have to maintain our economic relationship with the EU.”
Mr Corbyn’s claim that staying in the European single market would prevent him from pursuing his radical programme was dismissed as a “myth” by prominent Labour Europhile Chuka Umunna.
Mr Umunna denounced as “ridiculous” the move to block delegates at Labour’s Brighton conference from voting on a motion to keep the UK permanently in the single market.
In a TV interview on Sunday, Mr Corbyn made clear that he would resist pressure to commit Labour to single market membership after Brexit, as a group of 30 senior party figures including Mr Umunna are demanding.
“We need to look very carefully at the terms of our trade relationship, because at the moment we are a part of the single market and that has within it restrictions on state aid and state spending and pressures on it, through the European Union, to privatise rail and other services,” Mr Corbyn told the BBC’s Andrew Marr.
But speaking at a fringe meeting hosted in Brighton by soft Brexit pressure group Open Britain, Mr Umunna said supporters of continued membership of the single market and customs union must expose this argument as a myth.
It was “absurd” to suggest EU states were blocked from nationalising industries, he said, pointing to the state-owned rail system in France.
And he said Germany had pursued an industrial strategy of the type planned by Labour for decades without running foul of the European Commission.
“State aid doesn’t stop us having the active industrial strategy we envisage in our manifesto,” said the Streatham MP.
He added: “The sovereignty of nation states is more under threat than ever before, not from the European Commission, but from multinational companies operating across borders.”
“If we think we are going to be able to stand aside from this club of nations and protect ourselves alone from this threat to our sovereignty, I’m sorry, that’s a pipe dream.”
Meanwhile, a former Labour adviser said that leading figures in the party were pursuing a “delusional” path which could cost Britain any hope of reaching free trade agreements.
Open Britain’s deputy director Francis Grove-White, who until last month was working on Brexit at Labour HQ, described Mr Corbyn’s comments as “depressing”.
He said it was “mad” for shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner to suggest Britain could strike progressive trade deals outside the EU with countries like the US, China and the Gulf states.
“It doesn’t take a lot to think how Labour conference would respond to a trade agreement offered by Donald Trump, Xi Jinping or the Saudis,” he said.
“What Barry is advocating and, if Jeremy goes down that route, the party is advocating, is leaving the customs union to pursue new trade agreements only to find the Labour Party doesn’t support any of them and we end up with nothing.”
Any attempt to ignore EU states aid rules, as Mr Corbyn suggested, would block a free trade agreement with remaining member states and leave the UK without a deal, he warned.
Mr Grove-White added it was “absolutely essential that we challenge the delusional thinking going on within our own party”.
He warned: “If we don’t do that then the clock is ticking, and I think we are going to end up in a bad place.”