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’

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Ed­ward Mal­nick WHITE­HALL ED­I­TOR

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.”

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