‘Our future lies with Europe’: Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy calls for close ties with EU

Party should be ready to tear up Boris Johnson deal and seek better access to single market, says MP for Wigan

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Saturday 08 February 2020 22:21
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Lisa Nandy attacks Blair and Brown for maintaining 'consensus that Thatcher built'

Labour should tear up whatever deal Boris Johnson reaches with Brussels and renegotiate a much closer relationship with the EU to boost the economy and ensure cooperation on security, migration and the climate crisis, leadership candidate Lisa Nandy has suggested.

Ms Nandy said that any question of rejoining the EU was for “future generations” to decide but told The Independent she wanted “a closer economic and political alliance with Europe” than Mr Johnson is pursuing, including access to the single market.

The Wigan MP was one of the loudest voices during the Brexit debate to warn that Labour risked losing swathes of voters in the north of England and the Midlands if it allowed itself to be perceived as a Remain party by backing a second referendum.

However, speaking during a campaign visit to Worksop – part of the totemic Bassetlaw seat, which fell to the Tories in the December election for the first time since 1929 – she said the prime minister had taken “all the wrong cues” on Brexit from his victory at the polls by treating it as a green light to “smash apart our relationship with Europe”.

“We’re outside of the EU,” said Ms Nandy. “That is that, it’s finished, we’ve left and that is now settled for some time and it’s up to future generations what they want to do about EU membership.

“But our future lies with Europe on national security, on climate crisis, on the refugee crisis and the mass migration of people fuelled by climate change, and on trade and jobs and investment. On all of these things, our future is European.”

Asked if this meant she would renegotiate the limited Canada-style free-trade agreement or no-deal “Australia-style” Brexit that the PM hopes to seal in December, she replied: “Yes, I’ve always believed that we need a closer economic and political alliance with Europe, with the EU.

“Single-market access is really important because we’re a service economy. Our businesses are not going to suddenly stop trading with the EU just because Boris Johnson says our future looks like a deal with Trump.”

In place of “clunky” one-on-one trade deals with the US and other countries, the UK might be better seeking “pluralistic” arrangements with groups of countries that have similar service-based economies, stable democracies and the rule of law, such as Canada, Japan and New Zealand, she said.

Pushing for closer ties with the single market risks the accusation that Ms Nandy might reopen the door to free movement of EU workers.

But she said Johnson had misread the mood of voters who disliked the EU’s drift towards political integration but appreciated the close trading links permitted by membership of the former European Economic Community (EEC).

“The Tory story is about this small island nation that punches above its weight and goes it alone in the world,” she said. “I think we have to tell a story about a country that is attractive for people to invest in and to come and work in and which is outward-looking and internationalist and prepared to work with our European friends and allies in order to achieve that.”

She added: “I think Boris Johnson’s taken all the wrong cues from what’s just happened in this election. I think he thinks that they won those so-called ‘red wall’ seats because they were promising to smash apart our relationship with Europe. I don’t think that most people support that.

“I think he thinks that they can use that as a cover for doing some really horrendous things to child refugees and other vulnerable people. I don’t think most of my constituents would support that and I don’t think most people in Worksop will either. Working-class people in towns like this are thoroughly, thoroughly decent, and they don’t like nastiness and they’ll see right through that.”

Ms Nandy – who has secured a place on the ballot paper alongside Sir Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey in the race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn on 4 April – admitted that “the challenge has never been this great” for Labour.

Warning that the party’s very survival is at stake if it takes the wrong path in the coming months and years, she said the key to its revival is to listen to voters on the ground and to “start speaking in a language that people understand again”.

Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Keir Starmer at a Labour hustings (Getty)

Calls for a “green industrial revolution” – a central plank of Ms Long-Bailey’s platform – meant nothing to voters unless they were couched in terms of job opportunities in the growing eco sector, better bus services in market towns and insulation to keep energy bills down, she said.

Despite being the outsider of the three on the ballot paper, she insisted that the time was right for a Labour leader who was able to “reconnect” with voters who have deserted the party.

“I think we need a different sort of leadership in this country, one that listens and understands and then works with people in order to create change,” she said.

“That’s the sort of leadership that I haven’t seen in the Labour Party for a very long time and certainly don’t see from the Tories.

“I think they fundamentally missed the point about what has just happened in Britain and the series of seismic political earthquakes that we’ve experienced.

“Labour has to understand that. That’s that’s why I’m standing in this leadership contest. We’ve got to go out and emotionally reconnect. We’ve got to show people that we’ve got it.”

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