Keir Starmer has dumped his pledge to reinstate free movement and said rejoining the EU is “not realistic”.
The Labour leader also said it is not possible to renegotiate the trade deal with Brussels that Boris Johnson negotiated, saying the UK had a “thin deal” and must “make it work”.
His words are likely to rile Labour members as, during his leadership pitch, Starmer had promised to fight to return free movement.
Labour MP Rosie Duffield told HuffPost UK last week that that backbenchers were “desperate to rejoin” the EU and were pressuring Starmer to switch policy.
But Starmer told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday there is no scope for “major renegotiation” of the UK-EU trade deal but “there are bits already that need to be improved on”.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “We voted for the deal because the choices before us were to vote for the deal – a thin deal, a deal that isn’t a good deal for manufacturers, for the service sector certainly – but the alternative was no deal.”
He added: “There are bits already that need to be improved on. If you look at the creative industries and how they are going to operate across borders, there are huge gaps for them. The service sector of course has largely been left out.
“But I don’t think that there’s scope for major renegotiation. We’ve just had four years of negotiation. We’ve arrived at a treaty and now we’ve got to make that treaty work.
“It is thin, it isn’t what the government promised, but it is better than no-deal and we need to make it work.”
He went on to state that Labour does not have a policy of rejoining the EU.
He said: “Whether we like it or not that is going to be the treaty that an incoming Labour government inherits and has to make work.
“It is not being straight with the British public to say you come into office in 2024 and operate some other treaty. We have to make that treaty work.”
He added: “I don’t think there is a case for rejoining the EU, I’ve said that before, I think on your programme.
“But I think pretending to the British public that somehow after four years’ negotiation the treaty that has just been secured is going to be up for the grabs and that the EU are going to start saying ‘let’s start all over again’, that is not realistic.”