Labour MPs urge Corbyn to walk away from Brexit talks or risk European election backlash

‘If we stand in the middle of the road on Brexit, we’ll get run over from both directions’

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Friday 10 May 2019 15:20
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Jeremy Corbyn is facing pressure to walk away from Brexit talks with the government as angry Labour MPs warned voters could punish the party in the upcoming European elections.

Pro-EU MPs said the party risked being “crushed” between Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats, after the Labour leader sought to appeal to both sides in the party’s manifesto, insisting the real divisions are between ordinary workers and the wealthy elite rather than Leave and Remain voters.

The group is preparing to demand an end to the talks at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour Party on Monday, amid scepticism over whether Theresa May is prepared to make concessions on her Brexit strategy.

Cross-party negotiations have been ongoing for six weeks, with another round expected to begin in the coming days.

“Our members and voters are furious with these talks, which have done nothing except keep the prime minister in office and depress Labour’s vote at the local and European elections,” Labour MP Mary Creagh told the Evening Standard.

“The government are playing us for fools. If we stand in the middle of the road on Brexit, we’ll get run over from both directions.”

Chris Bryant, a former Europe minister, said Ms May was a “phantom PM who will be gone in weeks” and warned that any Tory successor, such as Boris Johnson, would not be bound by her promises.

“We should stop faffing about, pull out of the talks and put our distinctive position to the people with an option to Remain,” he said.

Ilford North MP Wes Streeting warned that Labour could be “crushed” between the Brexit Party and the pro-second referendum Liberal Democrats.

He said: “These talks are a millstone around the necks of every Labour candidate at these European elections.

“It’s time for Labour to ditch these toxic talks.”

Former minister Gareth Thomas added: “It looks like these talks have run to the end of the road and we should play no further part because the government does not appear to be remotely serious at meeting us even halfway.

“We need to fight the European elections on our own terms, committed to a full referendum on any deal that gets through the Commons, with Remain on the ballot paper as the alternative.”

It comes as one of Mr Corbyn’s close allies risked deepening the party’s divisions when he claimed Labour “doesn’t exist to stop Brexit”.

Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, said the party was seeking to appeal to both sides, and he would make ”no apology” of attempting to “offer something to everyone”.

Fellow frontbencher Diane Abbott also argued Labour’s stance was “courageous and principled”.

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Writing in The Independent, the shadow home secretary said: “It’s easy if all you’re going to do is talk to Leave voters. It’s easy if all you’re going to do is talk to Remain voters.

“But for a national party seeking government, we have to hold people, the country and our party together.

“This is actually a more courageous and principled stance than those who want to speak to only one set of voters.”

Both Labour and the Tories are braced for poor results in the European parliament elections at the end of the month, which will undoubtedly be dominated by Brexit.

The newly-formed Brexit Party looks set to be a major threat to the Conservatives, while smaller pro-EU parties, such as the Liberal Democrats and Change UK, are hoping to make inroads among Labour voters.

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