LABOUR experienced a remarkable spasm of unity in Liverpool this week. After years in which the right and the left have been tearing the party apart over anti-Semitism, ultra-leftism, mandatory reselection and a host of other issues, suddenly the Blairites and Momentum were on the same page backing a referendum on Brexit.

Yes, Jeremy Corbyn appears to be on a rather different page. But this is still a remarkable development, even if the Labour Party is still hopelessly confused about Europe following yesterday’s vote. After a classic case of carry-on-compositing, Labour ended up voting for a conference resolution that faced both ways and none. It supposedly committed the party to a referendum on Brexit, if there was no General Election, but was studiously vague about what the question would be.

This allowed the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, and Len McCluskey of Unite to suggest that it commits Labour only to a referendum on the Chequers deal, or whatever Theresa May finally comes up with, not a ballot on Brexit itself. Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, was equally adamant yesterday that “no one is ruling out Remain” being on the ballot paper. However, the mere fact that Labour is now committed to a Brexit referendum of some sort is a significant development.

According to opinion polls, assiduously tweeted by Lord Adonis, the Icarus of Remain, the majority of Labour members still support remaining in the European Union. The younger more left-wing members of the party, led by FFS (For our Future’s Sake), are 84 per cent pro-European and would return to the Brussels fold tomorrow if they could. Forget the EU being a banker’s club, premised on free market nostrums, that saw brutal austerity as the answer to the financial crisis in Greece, and appears strongly prejudiced against public ownership. Europe to millennials means free movement, citizenship rights, environmental standards and anti-racism. In this they are aligned with Labour “moderates” like Chukka Umunna, who normally wouldn’t be seen dead at a Momentum event.

But Mr Corbyn, hero of Momentum, still fears alienating all those Labour Brexit voters in the North of England: the so-called “left-behinds” who saw Brexit as a vote against globalisation, immigration and casualisation of the labour market. Well, good luck with that. Even if Mr Corbyn gets his preference – a General Election this winter – the number one issues will be Labour’s policies on Europe, Brexit and a referendum. The idea that it could avoid having a position on the most important issue facing Britain since the Second World War is ludicrous.

However, behind the compositing confusion, perhaps Labour did come to a sort of common position this week. Almost by accident, it has coalesced around a version of EU membership that perhaps everyone could agree on, even many Brexiters. Yesterday’s resolution committed a Labour government to “full participation in the European single market (ESM)”. That’s a significant step and something that Mr Corbyn, an instinctive Eurosceptic, has always resisted.

Yes, there remains ambiguity about what “participation” means – some argue that it means something less than formal membership of the ESM. But any way you look at it, this is a significant move towards the obvious compromise between Brexit and full EU membership: the European Economic Area.

The EEA was devised as a kind of safety net for countries that failed to quite make it into the European Union, as was the case with Norway in 1994. Norwegian voters were uneasy about Brussels’ neo-liberal tendencies, and also feared for the future of their fishing grounds. So, a compromise was reached under which Norway could become a member of the European Single Market, including the four freedoms of goods, services, capital and labour. It would in a sense become an associate of the EU, but would not be part of the Common Fisheries Policy, the Common Agricultural Policy and would not be directly under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. What’s not to like?

Well, rather a lot, as it happens. Being in the single market, but out of the decision-making institutions of the European Union, left Norway in the constitutional status Jacob Rees Mogg calls “vassalage”. Norwegians are subject to all the rules of the single market – the mythical bent banana standards – but have no say in them. They have to accept free movement, and pay a significant sum in membership dues. But Norway seems reasonably content with its arrangement.

This is an obvious destination for Brexit Britain. Indeed, the UK is partly responsible, because the EEA grew out of the European Free Trade Area, Efta, which was set up by Britain in 1960 as an alternative to the then European Economic Community, which France had barred us from joining. Single market membership means minimum disruption to trade and those essential “just in time” supply chains. Moreover, it doesn’t require membership of the customs union, so could leave some scope for Britain to strike its own trade deals.

As for immigration – that can be finessed, because under ESM rules, migrants only have rights of residence for three months before they must find a job. Finally, it is an obvious answer to the border problem in Northern Ireland (and Scotland) since both north and south would be in regulatory alignment.

This is infinitely preferable to the hard Brexiters’ Canada-style free trade agreement: the “Supercalifragilistic” deal, as Jacob Rees-Mogg called it on Monday. That took seven years to negotiate, doesn’t include services (80 per cent of the UK economy) and would leave a hard border in Ireland. It is a step back in time – like giving up broadband internet for dial-up. Immigration, as Brexiters have noticed, is no less an issue under the free trade agreement.

Labour is now moving, in spite of itself, in the direction of the EEA. No, it’s not as good as the EU, but it is better than any of the other options. Mind you there is one problem which may make the more sectarian Labour politicians baulk. Full participation in the single market is what the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has been arguing for since the White Paper, Scotland’s Place in Europe, back in 2016.