Keir Starmer tells Labour MPs to stop 'looking back in grief' at Brexit vote

'It is a really important distinction: are we looking back in grief or looking forward to the challenge of the future,' the Shadow Brexit Secretary told colleagues

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 16 January 2018 12:43 GMT
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer has reportedly told his colleagues in the Labour Party to stop “looking back in grief” and thinking of ways to “rub out” the Brexit vote.

In what was interpreted as a hardening in stance for the party’s leadership, the Shadow Brexit Secretary appeared to dismiss calls for a second referendum when asked by MPs at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).

His comments come after the former Ukip leader Nigel Farage reignited the debate over a second vote last week, signalling he would support the idea in order to end the “whingeing and whining and moaning”.

But according to the Huffington Post, Sir Keir said there would be a “number of obvious difficulties” with a second referendum. “I don’t think we’re going to know what ‘out’ looks like at 2021 at the earliest,” he explained.

He added: “And therefore the only point you’ll be able to measure out is in several years’ time, but we will have exited the EU in 2019; and therefore ‘in’ is no longer an option.”

“There is also something more fundamental than that,” he said.

“If we sit here as a party aspiring to govern then we have got to recognise that if we spend all that time looking back in grief about what many of us didn’t want to happen, thinking how do we rub it out then we are unable to do what we need to do which is to fight for the [final deal] that reflects what we stand for and that is right for Britain in the 21st century.

“It is a really important distinction: are we looking back in grief or looking forward to the challenge of the future.

“If we put all of our energy into calling for a second referendum we will stop the work we need to be doing which is why we have consistently said we’re not calling for a second referendum.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn once again at the weekend dismissed calls for a second referendum on EU membership, insisting it is not the policy of the Labour party told take the issue to the public once more.

“We’re not supporting or calling for a second referendum,” Mr Corbyn told ITV’s Peston on Sunday. “What we have called for is a meaningful vote in Parliament.”

Sir Keir's comments also come as a new poll shows an increasing majority of the British public would back a second referendum should the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal arise.

The new research for BMG pollsters found that 57 per cent of those who expressed a view would back a fresh public vote if the UK was set to leave the bloc and resort to World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, with 43 per cent opposed.

And on Tuesday, Donald Tusk, the European Council President, said Britain could still “change its mind” about Brexit even at this late stage and return to being a member of the EU.

“If the UK government sticks to its decision to leave Brexit will become a reality, with all its negative consequences in March next year, unless there is a change of heart among our British friends,” he told MEPs.

Quoting the Brexit Secretary, he added: “Wasn’t it David Davis himself who said ‘if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy’? We here on the continent haven’t had a change of heart – our hearts are still open to you. Thank you.”

He was immediately backed up by Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission.

“President Tusk also made some comments on Brexit, he said that our door remains open. I hope that will be heard clearly in London,” Mr Juncker added.

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