Labour MPs slam Corbyn for saying ‘we can’t stop’ Brexit
Corbyn accused of ‘dereliction of duty’ after saying he cannot agree with Jo Johnson’s call for fresh vote
Labour MPs have criticised Jeremy Corbyn after he announced “we can’t stop” Brexit just two months after he declared in his conference speech that “all options are on the table”.
In an interview with Der Spiegel published on Friday, the Labour leader renewed his criticism of the European Union’s economic policy and called upon the entire country to “recognise the reasons why people voted leave”.
This comes after the transport minister Jo Johnson resigned from the government and accused Theresa May of offering MPs a choice between “vassalage and chaos”, prompting renewed calls for a second vote (see lead report).
Asked yesterday if he could agree with Johnson’s call for a new referendum, Corbyn said: “Not really, no. The referendum took place. The issue now has to be how we bring people together, bring people together around the principles of our economy, our rights, and that we don’t turn this country into some kind of offshore tax haven on the lines that Donald Trump might want us to.”
Corbyn said any Brexit deal brought to the Commons by the government would need to be measured against Labour’s six tests for a withdrawal agreement.
He said: “We will test the government against our six questions. Our six points will be put to them and we will vote accordingly.
“If it means we vote against the government, we vote against the government. If it’s defeated, it means they’ve got a choice – either go back and negotiate something better or resign.
“They’re questions about the benefits to every part of the UK. They’re questions about the Northern Ireland border, they’re questions about the kind of regulatory framework in which we’ll live.
“I think those things are very important and, surely, it’s the duty of parliament and duty of the opposition to hold the government to account on this and that’s what we’ll do.”
However, Labour MP Wes Streeting called on the party to make the “full-throated case” for a people’s vote.
“Labour cannot sit by and allow the choice to be between the economic ruin of a hard Brexit or the loss of sovereignty under Theresa May’s deal, with Britain subjected to EU rules but with no say over them,” he said. “As with any fork in the road, there is always the option of turning back home.
“We know this is a mess made by the Tories, but the Labour party can’t just sit back and watch. It’s time for all of us in the Labour party to make the fullthroated case for a people’s vote with the option of remaining in the European Union.”
“That leadership must now come from the top, or our party may never be forgiven for the consequences that follow,” he added.
At the party conference, Labour delegates left open the possibility of backing a second referendum if it could not force a general election.
Chris Leslie, another Labour MP, called for the public to have the final choice and accused Corbyn of a “dereliction of duty”.
“With even Tory ministers recognising that Brexit threatens the poorest in society, our public services and Britain’s place in the world, to have a Labour leader just shrug about it, then go awol (absent without leave), is nothing short of a dereliction of duty,” he said.
The Labour MP and former leadership contender Chuku Umunna said in a tweet that the party would never be forgiven if it ignored the wishes of Labour members and opted not to call for a second referendum.
“We can stop this Tory Brexit but, ultimately, it should be for the people to decide,” he said. “A large majority of Labour members, supporters and voters not only want a people’s vote but to change our country in the EU. If the party sets its face against this, it will never be forgiven.”
Corbyn, a long-standing Eurosceptic, has seemingly been mindful that a significant amount of Labour voters opted to leave in the June 2016 referendum.
In the Der Spiegel interview, he criticised the neoliberal economic policies that are fundamental to the EU, saying working conditions had deteriorated in deprived areas of the UK, despite being protected by European legislation, and committed the party to enhancing workers’ rights in government.
About 700,000 people rallied for a new Brexit referendum last month, the second largest march in recent memory, with consternation centred on the government’s apparent failure to secure an acceptable deal.
However, there are concerns that a second referendum could embolden the far-right in the UK, while Eurosceptics point to examples where votes within EU member states rejecting greater federalism and austerity have been overturned in what they say is yet more evidence that there is a “democrat deficit” within the union.
Corbyn: We will test the government against our six questions. Our six points will be put to them and we will vote accordingly.