Labour’s purpose is not to stop Brexit, Corbyn ally insists

Labour “doesn’t exist to stop Brexit”, an ally of Jeremy Corbyn said as he defended the party’s approach to the European elections.

The party is seeking to appeal to both sides of the Brexit debate, insisting that the real divide in the country is between normal workers and the wealthy rather than Leavers and Remainers.

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon acknowledged it was a “difficult road” that the party had chosen “but it’s the right thing to do”.

In comments which could cause further tensions within Labour between those calling for a second referendum and others who want to secure a soft Brexit deal, Mr Burgon insisted the party was not trying to prevent the UK’s exit from the European Union.

“The Labour Party doesn’t exist to stop Brexit,” he told BBC Two’s Newsnight.

“Other parties have been formed that think that is their only purpose politically.”

The Liberal Democrats hope to poach pro-EU Labour voters with an uncompromising message of “bollocks to Brexit” for its European manifesto, with an alternative of Stop Brexit for voters with more refined sensibilities.

European Parliament election
Sir Vince Cable with the cleaner version of the Liberal Democrats’ European election slogan at the campaign launch event (David Mirzoeff/PA)

The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt will join Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable on the campaign trail on Friday.

At the party’s manifesto launch on Thursday night, Sir Vince said they had a “very clear, simple, unambiguous, honest message”.

He continued: “Nobody now seriously disputes the economic and the businesses arguments – even the defenders of Brexit acknowledge that if we leave the European Union we’ll be worse off.

“What they say is, ‘It’s a price worth paying’ – it’s usually someone else who’s going to end up paying the price. Somebody younger and more vulnerable.”

Talks between Labour and the Tories aimed at reaching a Brexit agreement will resume on Monday but little concrete progress appears to have been made.

Mr Burgon said Labour would not “walk away lightly” from the cross-party talks with the Government but he was getting “more and more concerned that actually negotiating with this Prime Minister isn’t as straightforward as some might hope because she is actually negotiating with her own side continually”.

He said he wanted the parties to agree a “traditional British compromise”.

The UK will take part in the May 23 European election because of Parliament’s deadlock over a Brexit deal and the failure of Labour-Tory talks to find an agreement.

Theresa May has indicated she could bring the Brexit legislation – the Withdrawal Agreement Bill – to the Commons for a vote before MPs break for another recess on the day of the election.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd told Newsnight: “The only way that we are going to get a successful Brexit deal through Parliament is either the Conservative MPs who voted against it previously changing their minds – there’s 34 of them – or doing a deal with Labour.

“So we need Labour to step up, to deliver what they have said they will do which is potentially do a compromise deal with us.

“I have confidence that those talks will continue, I hope they will deliver the outcome we all expect, but it’s going to be a political decision, slightly, for Labour, I fear.”

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