Labour’s Emily Thornberry denies ‘sneering’ at Brexit voters during Andrew Marr interview

Labour leadership contender hits back in TV grilling by BBC’s Andrew Neil

Emily Thornberry denies sneering at Brexiteers

Labour leadership candidate Emily Thornberry has denied “sneering” at Brexit voters.

The shadow foreign secretary was confronted in a TV interview with Andrew Neil with a video in which she appeared to laugh as a fellow Labour frontbencher said that people who did not hate Brexit “have something wrong with them”.

But she insisted that she had been amused by the “extraordinary” comments being made by Dawn Butler from the platform of the Love Socialism, Hate Brexit event.

And she said a double standard was applied to her, as the daughter of a single mother who grew up on a council estate, compared to the wealthy, Eton-educated Boris Johnson, who had made clearly derogatory remarks about working-class people.

Ms Thornberry was the second of the contenders to succeed Jeremy Corbyn to submit to an interrogation by Neil on his BBC2 show, after Lisa Nancy.

She defended her decision to send her son to a partially selective comprehensive school and said she was opposed to the introduction of mandatory reselection votes for Labour MPs, which are supported by her rival Rebecca Long-Bailey.

But she said she would not pick out any policy in Mr Corbyn’s manifesto for last month’s election as being “wrong”, criticising the package instead for being too ambitious and presenting a 15-year programme of change rather than a few priorities which would fit onto a Blair-style pledge card.

Despite Labour going down to its worst election defeat since 1935, Ms Thornberry said there was no need for an “existential crisis about who we are and what we stand for”.

And, in a sign that the race’s outsider does not want to alienate Corbyn backers, she said she would pick a shadow cabinet of “all the talents” if she became leader.

In a possible swipe at her rivals, all of whom entered parliament in 2010 or 2015, Ms Thornberry said she had not stood for leader before because she did not have the “proper experience”, but was now ready to try for the top job having been an MP for 15 years and held seven frontbench jobs.

She said she would keep an “open mind” on future free movement for EU citizens after Brexit, arguing it should be decided on the basis of what would be best for jobs and the economy, which she said would involve being “close to the single market”.

Rail and the Royal Mail would remain targets for nationalisation, she said. But with utilities like water and energy, she said she would give companies a chance to show they can deal with problems like excessive profits if they wanted to avoid being taken back into public ownership.

She said she would not scrap the HS2 high-speed rail link between London and the Midlands or the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent.

The remaining contenders to succeed Jeremy Corbyn: Lisa Nandy, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry

But she refused to say whether she would press the nuclear button if the country came under attack, insisting that she would follow former prime ministers including Margaret Thatcher in keeping the UK’s enemies guessing about Britain’s strategy.

After playing video footage of her smiling as Ms Butler said that “if anyone doesn’t hate Brexit, even if you voted for it, there’s something wrong with you”, Neil told Ms Thornberry that her expression showed she was sneering.

She responded indignantly: “I was not sneering… I really object to this.

“When they say that I sneer at people, they forget who I am and where I come from.”

Ms Thornberry, who was brought up in a council house in Guildford by her mother after her parents’ divorce and went on to become a barrister, has previously been forced to defend herself against allegations of sneering over a tweet apparently mocking a white van driver whose home was decked with England flags.

She told Neil: “It is the prime minister who has said that blue-collar workers like my brother, who is a builder, are largely unemployed, have low self-esteem and are drunk.

“He is talking about my brother. No-one says that Boris Johnson sneers at people.

“Somebody like me who comes from a council estate and from a single parent background, I don’t sneer at people, I listen to them.”

Ms Thornberry said she had been “laughing at Dawn saying the most extraordinary things”, adding: “I have never sneered and it’s not right to say so, and I do not accept that.”

Challenged over her decision to send her son to a partially selective comprehensive school 14 miles away from their north London home, Ms Thornberry replied: “As a politician, what I want to do is make sure we have good schools up and down the country.

“But as a mother, I will never apologise for doing the best for my kids. Any mother watching this will agree with me.

“As the victim of selective education who failed her 11-plus and went to a secondary modern, I feel very strongly about this.”

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