Diane Abbott says she is ‘beginning to worry’ about Labour’s Brexit strategy

For the first time, Jeremy Corbyn’s longstanding political ally openly questions his cautious approach

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
@Rob_Merrick
Thursday 27 June 2019 17:31
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Labour wants second referendum on 'any deal', says Diane Abbott

Diane Abbott says she is “beginning to worry” about Labour’s Brexit strategy, after the party failed to agree a shift to fully support a fresh referendum.

It is the first time the shadow home secretary – Jeremy Corbyn’s longstanding political ally – has questioned the cautious approach to the key issue, widely criticised as a fudge.

Many Labour MPs have openly criticised the reluctance to campaign for a Final Say vote and to guarantee support for Remain if it takes place.

In a tweet about the debate, Ms Abbott told a Labour supporter: “Like you, I have supported Labour’s Brexit strategy so far. But like you I am beginning to worry...”

Ms Abbott joined John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, and other shadow cabinet heavyweights in arguing for a shift at Tuesday’s meeting.

However, Mr Corbyn delayed a decision until “the next few weeks”, his spokesperson said later – amid an accusation that he is under the “influence” of his pro-Brexit advisers.

The anti-Brexit Best for Britain campaign seized on the comment as evidence of Labour fears that the party is “bleeding Remain support” because of the confusion.

“Labour needs to be the stop Brexit Party, it’s as simple as that,” said Naomi Smith, the organisation’s chief executive.

“Labour members and voters are crying out for the party to oppose Brexit. Diane Abbott won’t be the only Labour MP worrying about the party’s unclear position on this.”

Amid the growing criticism, Mr Corbyn’s spokesperson insisted he was striving to “find a common position” on a further referendum.

He said: “That’s his way of leading, it is to try and bring people with him and find common ground and that’s what he is doing here.”

The spokesperson dismissed the accusations of the power of “the leader’s office”, saying: “The idea that Jeremy doesn’t make his own decisions, or decide what he wants to do, is laughable.”

However, he also owned up to shadow cabinet splits, with some members urging “commitments about what should be on the ballot paper”.

Labour “expects” Remain to be one option, he said, but said “parliament must decide” the alternative, saying Labour’s softer Brexit proposals were still “on the table”.

Many MPs were alarmed when Mr Corbyn said, last week, that any referendum ballot paper should contain “real choices for both Leave and Remain voters”, leaving open the question of which he would back.

Labour’s woes over the issue escalated when Margaret Beckett condemned “the leader’s office” for the paralysis in the shadow cabinet.

She attacked aides who “don’t give a toss” about the views of Labour members and who would “do anything to impede Britain leaving, if necessary with no deal.”

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