Labour councillors campaign against Brexit
Local election candidates defy party line, saying that a vote for Labour will be ‘a chance to say no to Brexit’
LABOUR councillors standing for election next month are pledging to help “stop Brexit”, despite Jeremy Corbyn’s insistence that the party will honour the Leave vote, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.
In a move that raises fresh questions over the party’s stance on Brexit, Stephen Cowan, the Labour leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council in west London, has written to voters in the pro-Remain borough telling them that May’s local elections are an opportunity for them “to say no to Brexit”.
A letter also signed by two other Labour council candidates states: “You have the chance to vote Labour in the local council elections to send a clear message that you, like us, are against Brexit and the lack of certainty about the rights of EU citizens.”
The move will be seen as a bid to draw votes from pro-Remain Londoners who may otherwise support oppo- sition parties, such as the Liberal Democrats, whose formal national policies are to oppose Brexit.
Some 70 per cent of voters in Hammersmith and Fulham backed Remain in the 2016 referendum, compared to 48 per cent nationally.
The disclosure comes after Jeremy Corbyn was forced to insist that Barry Gardiner, one of his most prominent frontbenchers, “fully supports” his stance on Brexit after Mr Gardiner was recorded denouncing a key element of the policy.
In February Mr Corbyn controversially committed the party to membership of a customs union with the EU, despite warnings by pro-Brexit MPs that the move would amount to a “betrayal” of voters. But he insisted: “Britain is now leaving the European Union.”
In the local election letter, headed “European citizens – your chance to say no to Brexit”, the Labour council candidates state that they have taken an “independent stance” on the EU.
“The vote on May 3rd presents possibly the only opportunity for you to influence the Brexit debate,” they write. “Please take it.”
They state that they have taken “practical steps” to demonstrate their support for EU citizens, including “fly- ing two EU flags from our town hall” and “campaigning to stop Brexit”.
The letter includes a link to a petition on the Hammersmith and Fulham Labour party’s website to “stop Brexit”.
The petition, written by Mr Cowan, says that the local party’s councillors unanimously voted to demand a second referendum on Brexit.
It states: “Hammersmith & Fulham Labour has taken this independent stand because we believe it is the right thing to do. Whatever happens next will affect our country and our continent for generations to come. We are campaigning to stay in the EU.”
Graham Stringer, a Brexit-support- ing Labour MP and former leader of Manchester City Council, warned that the letter was at odds with Labour policy and the party’s mandate from last year’s general election.
He said: “Our manifesto was quite clear that we were going to implement the decision of the referendum in leaving the European Union. That’s the important electoral decision – not any local election. Brexit is going to go ahead and the local election results will have no influence on it whatsoever.”
A Labour spokesman said: “Labour accepts the referendum result and a Labour government will put the national interest first.”