Labour MPs should defy Jeremy Corbyn and vote to keep the UK in the Single Market, former party leader Lord Kinnock has claimed.
In an exclusive interview with HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast, Kinnock urged MPs to “vote for the country” if told to abstain on a measure that would see Britain join the European Economic Area after Brexit.
MPs are due to get a vote on the proposal in the coming weeks, after the House of Lords successfully amended the EU Withdrawal Bill.
But while the Labour leadership wants a customs union with the EU after Brexit, it currently does not support staying part of the Single Market.
Corbyn spoke out against such a move, telling MPs it would leave the UK as a “rule taker”.
But a number of party members believe staying in the Single Market is vital for jobs and the economy, and last week five North-East MPs penned a joint letter warning of risks to jobs in their constituencies if they leave the bloc.
In a direct message to Labour MPs, Kinnock said: “I would say vote for the country and I just hope the whipping in the Labour Party facilitates that, as I would have liked it to have done in the House of Lords because I don’t take voting against the whip lightly and I’m certain Labour MPs don’t.”
He added: “This is fundamental to the wellbeing of the country, not just now but for years, indeed generations, to come. In the end that’s got to guide your action as a democratic representative.”
During his time as Labour leader between 1983 and 1992, Kinnock shifted the party’s position on the then-EEC from opposition to support.
A leading opponent of the shift was Tony Benn, who challenged Kinnock for the party leadership in 1988 – backed by current leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Benn’s opposition to the EU never dwindled, and many pro-EU Labour MPs believe Corbyn campaigned half-heartedly for Remain in the 2016 referendum as he is still a Eurosceptic in the mold of his mentor.
Kinnock urged Corbyn to reexamine his opposition to the Single Market, and claiming membership of the bloc “doesn’t inhibit progressive, democratic socialist policies.”
He added: “There has been a misunderstanding and a misrepresentation indeed, for many years. There are some on the Right who misrepresent the European Union as a kind of capitalist adventure playground which of course is rubbish.
“But also those on the Left who’ve seen it as …