Labour's Brexit row deepens as Keir Starmer declares in speech 'nobody is ruling out Remain'

The Independent understands comments were not approved by Jeremy Corbyn's office in advance

Rob Merrick
Political Editor
Tuesday 25 September 2018 12:54 BST
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer as he says 'nobody is ruling out remain as an option- if there's a people's vote on Brexit'

Labour’s Brexit divisions opened up at Labour conference after Sir Keir Starmer told delegates “nobody is ruling out Remain”.

The line was not signed off by Jeremy Corbyn’s office and comes after Sir Keir found himself at loggerheads with one of the leader’s closest allies over the issue.

The shadow Brexit secretary was given a standing ovation by Labour delegates in the conference hall as he made clear that any future referendum backed by the party could have an option to stay in the EU.

But he was immediately contradicted from the stage by a senior figure in the Corbyn-backing union Unite, while Labour Leave, which campaigned to quit the EU, branded it a “betrayal”.

Labour conference will on Tuesday vote to back a motion painstakingly negotiated by the shadow Brexit secretary, which says that if Theresa May’s plans are voted down in the Commons and no general election is called, Labour “must” campaign for a new referendum.

The Independent has launched its Final Say campaign to push for a People’s Vote referendum, with more than 820,000 people signing the petition so far.

Speaking to conference, Sir Keir said that if Labour could not secure a general election, “we must have other options”.

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer says there should be a general election if Theresa May's deal is voted down

He went on: “That must include campaigning for a public vote.

“It is right that parliament has the first say, but if we need to break the impasse, our options must include campaigning for a public vote and nobody is ruling out Remain as an option.”

The final words of the sentence were not included in the copy of the speech pre-briefed to journalists, while insiders said that it had been ad-libbed by the frontbencher from the stage.

With all speeches having to be cleared with Mr Corbyn’s office first, it will mean that the words were not approved by the leader’s aides.

John McDonnell: Labour's new Brexit referendum would not offer option to remain in EU

A source in his office did not steer The Independent away from the suggestion that the leader had no prior knowledge of the comments, but did confirm the substance of them, saying that it was a “statement of fact”.

Labour’s Alison McGovern MP, leading supporter of the People’s Vote, said: “Keir Starmer’s speech shows that the Labour leadership listens to Labour voters and Labour members. Labour voters, supporters and members all reject Theresa May’s Brexit, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Brexit and any idea of a blindfold Brexit.”

But it comes after two of Mr Corbyn’s closest allies – shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Unite boss Len McCluskey – did try to rule out having a Remain option in any future referendum.

Len McCluskey says second EU referendum should not inclide remain option

Mr McDonnell had said that Labour would “go for a people’s vote” on leaving the EU, but any referendum would not include an option to stay in the bloc – but he was then forced to correct himself after he was contradicted by Sir Keir in an interview.

Mr McCluskey had said that it would be “wrong” to have a Remain option in a future referendum, and was on Tuesday backed by his union’s assistant general secretary.

Steve Turner took to the conference stage soon after Sir Keir’s speech to say: “Despite what Keir said earlier, it’s a public vote on the terms of our departure.”

Sir Keir also confirmed in his speech that the party is likely to vote down the deal that Theresa May brings back from Brussels, if she does secure one, because it does not meet Labour’s “six tests”.

Brendan Chilton, general secretary of Labour Leave, said of the speech: “This is a betrayal of the very highest order. It is a betrayal not only of the millions of Labour voters, but of our 2017 manifesto.

“It is a betrayal that voters will remember for a very long time, and we will lose MPs as a result. There is no doubt. It was a P45 to our MPs in the Midlands and Wales.”

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