EU referendum: Leave vote will mean victory for politics of Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen, says Chuka Umunna

Leading Labour Remain campaigner responds to The Independent’s shock poll that showed a big swing in favour of Brexit

Charlie Cooper
Whitehall Correspondent
Sunday 12 June 2016 10:14
Leading Remain figure Chuka Umunna said Labour needed to tackle the issue of immigration in its industrial heartlands
Leading Remain figure Chuka Umunna said Labour needed to tackle the issue of immigration in its industrial heartlands

Britain leaving the European Union would be a “victory for the politics of Farage, Le Pen and Trump”, leading Labour Remain campaigner Chuka Umunna has said, as the party prepares for a week-long campaign blitz to win back support for the EU among its voters.

The stark warning comes as Leave campaigners accused Downing Street and the Remain camp of “showing panic”, after a shock poll for The Independent showed a major swing in favour of Brexit. The ORB poll, which gave Leave a 10-point lead when respondents’ likelihood to vote was taken into account, has added fresh urgency to the Labour In campaign.

Among Labour voters, 44 per cent backed Brexit, despite 95 per cent of the party’s MPs, its leader and all of the major trade unions backing a Remain vote. Securing Labour supporters’ backing is now seen as crucial to guarantee an In vote.

Speaking on the campaign trail, Brexit-backing former minister Iain Duncan Smith said the Remain camp was “definitely showing panic at the moment”. On a visit to Harlow in Essex, during which he was jeered by Remain backers dressed up as Boris Johnson, the former Work and Pensions Secretary claimed he was “astonished” at the level of “personal abuse”.

“They are breaking all the normal rules you'd ever make about a successful campaign,“ he said. “You never show panic and they are definitely showing panic at the moment. This personal abuse, the old rule of thumb in politics is that once you start getting abused you must be doing something right.”

Remain campaigners have downplayed the significance of the poll, pointing out that support has fluctuated several times in recent weeks. However, there is a growing acknowledgement that more needs to be done to secure the backing of Labour supporters.

What to believe about the EU referendum

Mr Umunna, one of the leading organisers of the Labour In campaign, told The Independent that there were still many Labour supporters, even in London, who did not know where the party stood. It is understood that Labour figures will be placed front and centre in this week’s campaigning to get the message out that the party overwhelmingly backs Remain.

At the same time, Labour needed to address the fact that many Labour voters were backing Brexit because of concerns about immigration, Mr Umunna said.

“In particular, in our industrial heartlands, there is no getting away from the issue of immigration,” he said. “We need to be upfront, that it does pose challenges, but that Brexit is not the way to solve them when the majority of immigration to the UK is not from EU countries. But we also need to have conversations in which we remind people about the number of jobs that are linked to our membership of the EU, and the rights at work that being a member secures.”

Responding to The Independent’s poll, Mr Umunna said that the referendum would be a “very close-run thing”. “Neither side was going to win comfortably and it is perfectly possible that we may leave the EU, handing the biggest victory to the politics of Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump that we’ve yet seen,” he said.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who visited Aberdeen on Saturday to urge a Remain vote, made an appeal to the party’s founding values of “solidarity” and said the decision on EU membership must not be made ”on the basis of xenophobia or attacks on all foreigners“.

”I hope people will vote for what they want on 23 June, and decide whether they wish to be part of the European Union or not on the basis of solidarity with people across the continent,” he said.

His visit to Aberdeen came amid concern from parts of the party that their leader has been only lukewarm in his backing for Remain.

The Labour leader said: “I don't think the European Union is perfect, nobody does. I do think the working time directives, the employment rights that have been achieved by trade unions across Europe and enshrined in European law are very important.”

The EU referendum debate has so far been characterised by bias, distortion and exaggeration. So until 23 June we we’re running a series of question and answer features that explain the most important issues in a detailed, dispassionate way to help inform your decision.

What is Brexit and why are we having an EU referendum?

Will we gain or lose rights by leaving the European Union?

What will happen to immigration if there's Brexit?

Will Brexit make the UK more or less safe?

Will the UK benefit from being released from EU laws?

Will leaving the EU save taxpayers money and mean more money for the NHS?

What will Brexit do to UK trade?

How Brexit will affect British tourism

What will Brexit mean for British tourists booking holidays in the EU?

Will Brexit help or damage the environment?

Will Brexit mean that Europeans have to leave the UK?

What will Brexit mean for British expats?

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