CONFUSION surrounds Labour's position on the European single market after Jeremy Corbyn appeared to keep the door open for Britain to retain membership beyond the planned post-Brexit transition period.

Labour has already shifted its position, saying that it now supports the country remaining in the single market during the transition period beyond Brexit in 2019.

But in a BBC interview the party leader was asked what would happen after that.

Loading article content

He said: “We want a relationship which allows us to trade within the single market. Whether that is formal membership - which is only possible, I believe, if you are actually a member of the EU - or whether it is an agreed trading relationship, is open for discussion.”

Mr Corbyn has previously said the UK would have to leave the single market because it was "inextricably linked" with EU membership.

However, his latest remarks suggest that the Labour leader has not closed his mind to the so-called “Norway option,” whereby Britain becomes a member of the European Economic Area, where it would have access to the single market, pay a fee but have no vote over the EU’s rules.

Crucially, under this option people from the EU would be free to work and live in the UK.

But shortly after Mr Corbyn made his comments, a spokesman for the Labour leader insisted that the party's position had not changed and that there was no question of the UK being a member of the single market once the transition period was completed.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, had previously said Labour was "flexible" about adopting a new single market relationship or a bespoke trade deal after transition yet Mr Corbyn's comments appeared to go further and open up the possibility of a Norway-style arrangement in which the UK could be in the single market but not the European Union.

However, his spokesman later issued a clarification, saying: "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."

Mr Corbyn also said he wanted Britain to retain membership of "many" EU agencies following its withdrawal from the 28-nation bloc and would "forever" be part of the European Convention on Human Rights and subject to the European Court of Human Rights, which is not an EU body.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, sparked speculation about Conservative policy during the transition period after he refused to rule out temporarily continuing free movement during it.

Asked if there would “still be free movement of people for those two years” of the transition period, Mr Johnson replied: "I’m not going to pre-empt any announcements that the Prime Minister will make about this in due course."

Theresa May is expected to give a keynote speech on Brexit and the Government’s approach to the planned transition period towards the end of next week.

Last week, Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit co-ordinator, raised eyebrows when he suggested that the next round of Brussels talks would have to be delayed because of an “important intervention” planned by the PM; a reference thought to be about her keynote speech.