European elections 2019: Call for ‘urgent’ Labour Brexit change

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Media captionEmily Thornberry: “Labour should campaign to remain in EU”

Senior Labour figures have called for an urgent change in the party’s Brexit policy after a “disastrous” EU election saw the party fall to third place.

As Labour fell to third place, deputy leader Tom Watson said: “We need a change of direction urgently.”

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said Labour should now campaign to remain in the EU.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the party would “bring our divided country together”.

With some results still to declare, Labour was on course for less than 15% of the vote – worse than the party’s previous low in 2009 – and a fifth place finish in Scotland.

In a statement, Mr Watson said the likely election of a “hardline Brexiteer” as Conservative leader put additional pressure on Labour to change its approach.

He said: “It is now a serious concern that the next Tory Prime Minister runs down the clock until 31 October and crashes out of the EU with no deal. We cannot let that happen.

“Labour is rightly calling for a general election. But we cannot go into an election with our current Brexit position.”

Ms Thornberry told the BBC that Labour’s EU election campaign lacked clarity on Brexit. “We were not clear on the one single thing that people wanted to hear,” she said.

She said Labour had done “everything we can to try and get a decent policy on leaving the European Union” but now faced a Conservative leadership which would “insist” on a no-deal Brexit.

The party must be “equally clear” by supporting another referendum and campaigning to remain, she said.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the party couldn’t “hide from the hit we took last night” and “bringing people together when there’s such a divide was never going to be easy”.

With the prospect of a “Brexiteer extremist” leading the Conservative party and the threat of no deal, Mr McDonnell, in a tweet, called for the issue to be put to a public vote.

He added his preference of a general election would be “difficult” to secure and if this was not possible he would support another referendum.

Former Labour communications director Alastair Campbell told the BBC he had voted for the Liberal Democrats “for the first time in my life”.

“I felt on this issue the Labour party has let its own supporters down, its members down and the country down in the way that it has failed properly to develop a policy that the party and country could unite around.”

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Media caption“I voted Liberal Democrat” says Alastair Campbell

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon admitted it had been a “deeply disappointing night” for his party.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme a no-deal Brexit was becoming more and more likely and Labour must “use whatever mechanism we can” – including a public vote – to stop such a scenario.

‘Challenging on the doorstep’

Mr Corbyn blamed the results on “Tory failure” to deliver Brexit, turning the EU elections into a “proxy second referendum” where single-issue parties such as the Brexit Party would thrive.

He said: “With the Conservatives disintegrating and unable to govern, and parliament deadlocked, this issue will have to go back to the people, whether through a general election or a public vote.

“Labour will bring our divided country together so we can end austerity and tackle inequality.”

But Labour’s MPs are divided on Brexit with some – like former leadership contender Owen Smith – supporting a change in Labour policy to back remaining in the EU.

Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, called for the party to “get its act together” and come out fully in support of another referendum.

“We simply cannot go on with this mealy-mouthed approach to a confirmatory vote,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He said the party’s lack of clarity on Brexit had “resuscitated the Liberal Democrats” and “handed votes to the Greens” as well as “facilitated Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party”.

Other Labour MPs in Leave-voting areas – like Don Valley MP Caroline Flint – said it would be a “mistake” for the party to appeal only to Remain voters.

Labour chairman Ian Lavery told BBC Radio 4 that the results were disappointing, but that the Conservatives performed worse, suffering a “whiteout”.

He said: “We’re the party who try to bring everyone together, it’s been challenging trying to get that view across on the doorstep.”





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