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London MPs defy Labour Party on Brexit, demand single market membership

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party speaks to journalists following a meeting with senior party figures after their election manifesto was leaked to the press, in London, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall

LONDON (Reuters) - A group of 16 opposition Labour Party lawmakers seeking re-election in London said on Friday Britain needed to remain a member of the European single market after Brexit, contradicting the party’s official position ahead of a June 8 election.

Labour is trailing badly in opinion polls, with leader Jeremy Corbyn criticised by some supporters for not opposing Prime Minister Theresa May’s EU exit strategy strongly enough, and by others for not embracing Brexit more enthusiastically.

The party’s official position is to seek to retain the benefits of the single market in exit talks with Brussels, but its Brexit spokesman has previously said that full membership is incompatible with a need to tighten immigration rules.

However the 16 candidates from London, home to the country’s financial centre, said it was vital to remain in the single market and the customs union which allow free trade in goods and services with Europe’s 27 other states.

“We are not ‘Remoaners’, and we do not underestimate the challenge of connecting with the many Labour voters who supported Brexit,” the group, lead by the party’s former business spokesman Chuka Umunna, said in a pamphlet.

“But we want the best, most prosperous and most equal future for our city and our country. Pointing out that there is a better way is not moaning, and we cannot reach out to communities that voted for Brexit by backing a policy that makes them poorer.”

The decision to campaign on a different platform from their leader underscores deep divisions within Labour around Brexit and Corbyn’s decision to shift the party back towards its socialist roots and away from the political centre ground.

Labour hold a majority of seats in London, including many constituencies that voted strongly to reject Brexit. However, many of the party’s traditional strongholds are in working-class areas outside the capital where voters backed leaving the EU.

Reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison