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Labour infighting as Starmer says Brexit vote could have Remain option

Keir Starmer was cheered to the rafters by Labour activists today as he insisted a Brexit referendum could include an option to Remain in the EU.

The shadow Brexit secretary was given an ovation by delegates in Liverpool after using his speech to deliver a pointed rebuke to John McDonnell. 

The shadow chancellor caused fury among pro-EU members yesterday by playing down the prospects of a referendum – and insisting that even if one happened it would not offer the public the chance to reverse Brexit altogether.

The remarks sparked an extraordinary public squabble as Sir Keir contradicted his colleague.

And in his conference speech this afternoon, Sir Keir doubled down on the row, diverting from his official script to say: ‘If we need to break the impasse, Labour campaigning for a public vote must be an option.’

Meanwhile, in an interview this afternoon Mr Corbyn refused to say which way he would vote if a Brexit referendum was held again. 

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer was given an ovation by delegates in Liverpool after using his speech to deliver a pointed rebuke to John McDonnell.

Sir Keir was cheered to the rafters by Labour activists today (pictured) as he insisted a Brexit referendum could include an option to Remain in the EU

Sir Keir was cheered to the rafters by Labour activists today (pictured) as he insisted a Brexit referendum could include an option to Remain in the EU

Mr McDonnell (pictured delivering his conference speech yesterday) fuelled growing splits by insisting a second referendum should not include an option to Remain in the EU

Mr McDonnell (pictured delivering his conference speech yesterday) fuelled growing splits by insisting a second referendum should not include an option to Remain in the EU

Earlier, Sir Keir had risked fuelling tensions with Mr McDonnell – Jeremy Corbyn’s closest ally – by jibing that he had initially misrepresented the situation because he was ‘up early’ and badly briefed.

Emily Thornberry threatened to raise tensions further with a call for Labour to extend the Article 50 negotiation if it wins the snap election it is demanding. 

Labour conference is due to vote later on a motion that would keep the option of a referendum ‘on the table’.

But after a fraught five-hour meeting of officials on Sunday night the text was fudged to avoid binding the hands of the leadership.

In a round of interviews yesterday, Mr McDonnell repeatedly stated that if a referendum was held, staying in the EU should not be on the ballot paper. 

‘We argued for remain in the past but we lost that vote so we have to respect that,’ Mr McDonnell said.

‘All the polling that we have seen is that the country is still pretty split down the middle.’ 

He added: ‘We’re respecting the referendum. We want a general election. If we can’t get that, we will have a people’s vote.

Activist is BANNED from flying EU flag at Labour conference

Palestinian flags were flown at Labour conference today  despite a ban on EU flags

Palestinian flags were flown at Labour conference today  despite a ban on EU flags

A Labour activist was banned from flying the EU flag in the Labour conference today – despite hundreds of people unfurling Palestinian flags.

Delegate Paul Wilkinson raised a point of order to protest the ‘double standard’ from party officials. 

He said he was told in ‘no uncertain terms’ he was not allowed the flag inside the main conference hall in Liverpool.

Pro-Palestinian activists have handed out thousands of flags for a heated foreign policy debate. 

Mr Wilkinson said: ‘This morning a colleague and I unfurled an EU flag. We were told in no uncertain terms to take it down.

‘There are double standards here as we have seen banners all over the place.’  

‘The people’s vote will be on the deal itself, and whether we can negotiate a better deal.’

The comments sparked an extraordinary public squabble, with Sir Keir responding to anger from pro-EU MPs by insisting that a Remain option could feature in a referendum.  

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning why he thought Mr McDonnell had managed to get the position wrong, Sir Keir suggested he might have been overtired. 

‘Well, we finished our meeting about one in the morning. And then John was up early doing the media round,’ he said. 

Sir Keir also made clear that Labour will reject any deal Theresa May secures from the EU, and pointedly refused to rule out extending the Article 50 process.  

Labour has set six ‘tests’ for any Brexit deal, including one which states it must deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as being in the EU.

‘If Theresa May brings back a deal that fails our tests – and that looks increasingly likely – Labour will vote against it. No ifs, no buts.

‘And if the Prime Minister thinks we’ll wave through a vague deal asking us to jump blindfolded into the unknown she can think again. We will vote down a blind Brexit.’

Meanwhile, in an interview with the BBC, Mr Corbyn refused to say which was he would vote if another referendum is held again.

He said: ‘Well we don’t know what the question is going to be in the referendum so that is a hypothetical question. I can’t answer that question because we don’t know what the question is going to be.’ 

And he refused to rule out delaying Brexit and extending the Article 50 deadline – which sets the clock ticking on the UK’s departure.

He said: ‘That is not in our hands. Article 50 can only be extended by the agreement of the entirety of the European Union.’ 

Mr Corbyn risked further inflaming the spat today when he hugged an activist who had condemned the EU as a ‘capitalist club’ and rejected the idea of a second referendum.

Mr Corbyn (pictured at a fringe 'bingo' event last night) is a long-standing Eurosceptic and has been trying to avoid alienating Labour's Brexit-backing voters

Mr Corbyn (pictured at a fringe ‘bingo’ event last night) is a long-standing Eurosceptic and has been trying to avoid alienating Labour’s Brexit-backing voters

Sir Keir Starmer (pictured at conference in Liverpool today) responded to anger from pro-EU MPs by insisting that a Remain option could feature in a referendum

Sir Keir Starmer (pictured at conference in Liverpool today) responded to anger from pro-EU MPs by insisting that a Remain option could feature in a referendum

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer (pictured in Liverpool today) jibed at Mr McDonnell as he tried to quell mounting fury from activists over the party's policy

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer (pictured in Liverpool today) jibed at Mr McDonnell as he tried to quell mounting fury from activists over the party’s policy

Blyth Valley Labour Party member David Mallon also told the party’s Brexit debate: ‘I am against having a people’s vote on the basis that in my constituency we voted overwhelmingly to Leave.

Corbyn embraces Labour activist who slammed Brexit referendum plan  

David Mallon shared a few words and a warm embrace with Mr Corbyn before leaving the stage

David Mallon shared a few words and a warm embrace with Mr Corbyn before leaving the stage

Jeremy Corbyn risked further inflaming Labour’s Brexit splits today when he hugged an activist who condemned the EU as a ‘capitalist club’ and rejected the idea of a second referendum.

Blyth Valley Labour Party member David Mallon told the party’s Brexit debate: ‘I am against having a people’s vote on the basis that in my constituency we voted overwhelmingly to Leave.

‘My worry is if we go against the people’s will, we’ll lose those voters – I implore you all, come to Blyth Valley.’

He urged people to see areas where buildings are crumbling, adding: ‘Tell them why you want us to Remain.’

Mr Mallon said he would have voted Remain in 2016, but is now against it as he believes the EU is a ‘capitalist club’ which is using free trade to ‘take advantage’ of eastern Europeans.

He shared a few words and a warm embrace with Mr Corbyn before leaving the stage. 

‘My worry is if we go against the people’s will, we’ll lose those voters – I implore you all, come to Blyth Valley.’

He urged people to see areas where buildings are crumbling, adding: ‘Tell them why you want us to Remain.’

Mr Mallon said he would have voted Remain in 2016, but is now against it as he believes the EU is a ‘capitalist club’ which is using free trade to ‘take advantage’ of eastern Europeans.

He shared a few words and a warm embrace with Mr Corbyn before leaving the stage. 

Asked on LBC Radio whether the Article 50 deadline could be extended, Sir Keir said: ‘Well the answer is it depends, because we don’t know when we’re going to get a deal. 

‘The October deadline might slip to November, November might slip to December. I don’t know, I’m not conducting the negotiations so the timeline is not in our control.

‘I don’t think at this stage anybody is talking about extending article 50 but if it has to be extended quite frankly it will be because of the collapsing failure of the discussions and the negotiations.’ 

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry backed an extension to give a new Labour government time.

Speaking on the conference fringes she said: ‘We should have a general election and on our manifesto we should say ‘we will abide by the results of the referendum’, we cannot obviously leave in current circumstances, we need to extend article 50 – to pre-empt your next question I don’t know how long it will take.

‘But we need to extend article 50 and essentially turn up in Europe and say the ‘grown ups have turned up now, let’s sit down and talk. ‘

Emily Thornberry threatened to raise tensions further with a call for Labour to extend the Article 50 negotiation if it wins the snap election it is demanding

Emily Thornberry threatened to raise tensions further with a call for Labour to extend the Article 50 negotiation if it wins the snap election it is demanding

In further signs of divisions last night, shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said the idea that Mrs May might call another election was ‘Looney Tunes territory’.

Labour’s official position is to push for an election if Brexit talks fail. But, speaking at a fringe meeting at Labour’s conference in Liverpool, Mr Gardiner said it was time to ‘inject some realism into the debate’.

Mr Gardiner said Commons officials had warned him there was little MPs could do to force the PM’s hand in the event of the Chequers deal being rejected.  

A senior union leader said today he loathed Margaret Thatcher so much he set his alarm clock an hour earlier so he could ‘hate her for an hour longer’ each day.

Tosh McDonald, president of train drivers union Aslef, told the Labour Party conference he stopped the practice after the former prime minister’s death in 2013 but still wakes early.

Tosh McDonald, president of train drivers union Aslef, told the Labour Party conference he set his alarm clock an hour earlier so he could 'hate' Margaret Thatcher for an hour longer'

Tosh McDonald, president of train drivers union Aslef, told the Labour Party conference he set his alarm clock an hour earlier so he could ‘hate’ Margaret Thatcher for an hour longer’

Delegates booed at the mention of Baroness Thatcher, who Mr McDonald said came to power a month before he started work on the railway in 1979.

Speaking in Liverpool, he said: ‘I hated her. I wish I could be like Jeremy and rise above it but I can’t…

‘I did set my alarm clock an hour earlier than I needed just so I could hate her for an hour longer.

‘Since she died I don’t do that anymore, I just set my alarm at the right time, but I still wake up an hour earlier – I can’t help it.’

How has Labour’s position on Brexit shifted since the election?

Critics say Jeremy Corbyn is even more determined than the government to have his cake and eat it on Brexit

Critics say Jeremy Corbyn is even more determined than the government to have his cake and eat it on Brexit

Labour’s Brexit stance has undergone so many changes it can be difficult to keep track.

Even during the referendum in 2016 Jeremy Corbyn was accused of half-hearted campaigning and hedging his bets – admitting he was only ‘7 out of 10’ in favour of Remain.  

SInce then the leadership has been trying to maintain ‘constructive ambiguity’ so it can keep hold of heartland voters who often back Brexit – without alienating the party’s largely Remainer members and MPs.

But critics say Mr Corbyn is even more determined than the government to have his cake and eat it, and has no real answers to what shape Brexit should take.

The latest version of Labour’s Brexit policy is due to be voted on at the 2018 conference. Official policy says there should be a new general election but if this is impossible, the party could back a new referendum. 

SECOND REFERENDUM

Last September Mr Watson said the party was ‘not ruling it out, but it’s highly unlikely’.

But in November, letters emerged from shadow home secretary Diane Abbott to constituents saying she would ‘argue for the right of the electorate to vote on any deal that is finally agreed’.

In December, Mr Corbyn said ‘We’ve not made any decision on a second referendum.’

But by January this year he was stating: ‘We are not supporting or calling for a second referendum. What we’ve called for is a meaningful vote in Parliament.’

Numerous backbenchers have said they want to see a second referendum on a Brexit deal. 

By conference 2018 internal debate over a second referendum prompted more than 150 different motions on the issue. A ‘composited’ version invites members to back a new general election but leave a ‘People’s Vote’ on the table.

Senior Labour figures have split on what any second referendum should mean – with some, such as Len McCluskey and John McDonnell insisting remaining in the EU cannot be on the ballot – but Sir Keir Starmer has said the motion means it could be. 

In December last year, Sir Keir Starmer said he would like a 'Norway-style treaty' and as a result 'there may have to be payments to be negotiated'

In December last year, Sir Keir Starmer said he would like a ‘Norway-style treaty’ and as a result ‘there may have to be payments to be negotiated’

SINGLE MARKET

After the election in June last year, Mr Corbyn sacked three frontbenchers for voting in favour of a Commons motion calling for the UK to stay in the single market.

The same month shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: ‘I think people will interpret membership of the single market as not respecting that referendum.’

However, the following September Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said single market membership was possible ‘if the European Union wanted to talk about reform of freedom of movement rules’.

Sir Keir Starmer has said the party wants ‘a partnership that retains the benefits of the single market and the customs union’.

Labour whipped its peers to abstain from a vote in favour of the single market earlier this month, but the instructions were largely ignored and many backed the idea. 

Mr Corbyn briefed MPs on his single market stance at a behind closed doors meeting on May 14. But they did not seem entirely clear on his position, with one backbencher emerging to say he had left the prospect open, but another saying he had made clear the option was ‘dead’.

A massive rebellion is expected in a Commons vote that could happen next month.

CUSTOMS UNION

Shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner said in July 2017 that staying in the EU customs union would be a ‘disaster’ as it would entail an ‘asymmetrical relationship’ and damage Britain’s ability to make deals with other countries.

But in February this year Sir Keir confirmed that the party wants to stay in a customs union with the bloc – although not the current one because that would mean EU membership. He said ‘the only way realistically’ for the UK to get tariff-free access to the EU.

The following month Emily Thornberry said Labour wanted to maintain the existing customs union.

Last month Barry Gardiner was caught on mic giving a withering assessment of Labour's six tests for approving a Brexit deal, saying they were 'b*****cks'

Last month Barry Gardiner was caught on mic giving a withering assessment of Labour’s six tests for approving a Brexit deal, saying they were ‘b*****cks’

‘What we want to do is we want to remain in the customs union,’ she said. ‘We don’t want any faffing around with any of the nonsense that the Government is coming up with in relation to alternatives to the customs union. We want to remain in the customs union.’ 

Last month Mr Gardiner was caught on mic giving a withering assessment of Labour’s six tests for approving a Brexit deal, saying they were ‘b*****cks’.

‘We know very well that we cannot have the exact same benefits,’ he said.

Mr Gardiner has also suggested that fears over the Irish border are being whipped up for ‘political’ reasons. 

PAYING FOR ACCESS TO MARKETS

In December last year, Sir Keir said he would like a ‘Norway-style treaty’ and as a result ‘there may have to be payments to be negotiated’.

However, in January this year, John McDonnell said ‘I don’t understand why we would have to pay’ for access to the single market.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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