Unite the union is pushing Labour to put membership of the single market at the heart of its Brexit policy as signs emerge that the party’s biggest financial backer is at odds with Jeremy Corbyn over the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Last week Corbyn’s supporters – spearheaded by Unite – lost a vote at Bermondsey and Old Southwark CLP on the issue, despite appealing to members to back the leader on the EU.
Defeats for Corbynistas in London are rare events these days and the vote underlined how out of kilter the leadership seems to be with the wider membership on this particular issue.
Unite’s position on the issue also seems incoherent. With Len McCluskey under pressure inside the union and increasingly fearful of a renewed challenge from Gerard Coyne – the man many thought he would beat easily last spring but who ran him extremely close – McCluskey is desperate to reach out to the “Unite Now” faction which, while on the union’s left, has traditionally taken a more pro-European line because of its base in big manufacturing branches. He wants to line up the Labour Party behind a pro-Single Market position.
Unfortunately for McCluskey, Jeremy Corbyn’s office seems unwilling to play ball and appear to be digging in over the issue of Single Market membership. Having Unite delegates to CLPs argue that the Single Market, and associated freedom of movement, leads to “social dumping” – the claim made at Bermondsey – suggests the union’s bosses haven’t even got their internal messages straight.