Labour 'doesn't exist to stop Brexit' says Corbyn ally Richard Burgon after European manifesto launch

'Other parties have been formed that think that is their only purpose politically'

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Friday 10 May 2019 10:41
Labour 'doesn't exist to stop Brexit' says Corbyn ally Richard Burgon after European manifesto launch

Labour "doesn't exist to stop Brexit", the shadow cabinet minister Richard Burgon has claimed in comments that risk angering pro-EU members.

Mr Burgon - an ally of Jeremy Corbyn - made the remarks after the Labour leader launched the party's manifesto for the European elections in two weeks' time.

Mr Corbyn insisted Labour was neither a Remain or Leave party, and rather appealing to both sides of the debate as he made "no apology" of attempting to "offer something to everyone".

The Labour leader also reiterated his party's policy of supporting the "option" of a second referendum, if the party is unable to obtain a "sensible" Brexit deal, or a general election.

While admitting it was a "difficult road" Labour had chose, Mr Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, defended the stance as "the right thing to do".

Asked whether Labour is the party to stop Brexit on BBC2's Newsnight, he replied: "The Labour Party doesn't exist to stop Brexit."

"Other parties have been formed that think that is their only purpose politically," he added in reference to the breakaway group of Labour and Conservative MPs, who formed Change UK.

Mr Burgon added: "The Labour Party exists to bring people together - we know the real divide in this country isn't between whether people voted Leave or whether they voted Remain."

He insisted the "real divide" across the UK was between the 99 per cent and the one per cent of people who were "getting a rotten deal under this rotten system" either inside, or outside the EU.

"I think that Labour is well-placed to showcase our values to the country in these elections which nobody really expected having to take place," he said.

Mr Burgon's intervention came after the Liberal Democrats launched their own manifesto on Thursday evening with an unequivocal message emblazoned across the front of the document: "Bollocks to Brexit".

Sir Vince Cable said they had a "very clear, simple, unambiguous, honest message", adding: "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."

Responding to Mr Burgon's comments the Labour MP Darren Jones - a supporter of the People's Vote campaign - said: "No serious political party exists just because of Brexit but there is no escape from the reality that the issue of how or whether we leave the EU overshadows everything in British politics politics today.

He continued: "The overwhelming majority of Labour MP, Labour members, and Labour voters, including in traditional Labour areas, want the party to support the public being given a Final Say on Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn says new referendum could be 'healing process' at European election campaign launch

"It's past time for the leadership of the Labour Party to stop ducking and diving on this crucial issue and start standing up for the people who elected them."

Mr Burgon added that 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".

During the interview, Mr Burgon also insisted he "certainly did not lie" following a row last month after a clip emerged of him claiming that "Zionism is the enemy of peace" in 2014.

He had previously denied making the comment in an interview with the BBC, and faced calls to apologise when the video surfaced last month showing him saying the exact remarks.

Repeatedly pressed on the issue by BBC Newsnight, he said: "I forgot a phrase that it turns out I used half a decade ago, before I was an MP."

He added that he "regretted" the remarks, which were an "oversimplification", but added: "I didn't lie".

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