Labour leadership debate: Owen Smith accuses Jeremy Corbyn of being ‘happy’ about Brexit during Glasgow hustings

Challenger says he is prepared to block Article 50 being triggered by any means necessary and that his election manifesto would include a pledge to stay in the EU

Jon Stone
Thursday 25 August 2016 21:34
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Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn clash at latest leadership debate

Jeremy Corbyn has confirmed he voted Remain in the European Union referendum – as his rival Owen Smith accused him of being “happy” about Brexit.

At a sometimes ill-tempered leadership hustings in Glasgow on Thursday night Mr Smith repeatedly accused the Labour leader of secretly wanting Britain to leave the EU, adding that he was “not even sure” of Mr Corbyn’s vote.

Mr Corbyn initially said he did not believe the question about how he had voted was “grown up”, but after repeated questioning responded fully.

“Owen you know perfectly well what the answer is – that I voted Remain and I'm surprised that you even raised this question,” he told the audience of Labour supporters.

Smiling after he received a large round of applause, he added: “The only people who raised this question at the time were the Daily Mail”.

Mr Smith pointed to Mr Corbyn’s criticism of the EU from 1992 and said the Labour leader had a record of criticising the union. Mr Corbyn said he now supported the EU because of its social protections, but that the result of the vote had to be respected.

Mr Smith went on to say: “The reason I think that Jeremy can be so complacent and passive about this is that he's happy about the result. He's not bothered about the result.

“If he's so concerned about protecting workers' rights why on earth would we allow the Tories to implement a Brexit deal which is going to see workers' rights in this country sold down the river?”

The challenger said he was prepared to block Article 50 being triggered to leave the bloc by any means necessary and that his election manifesto would include a pledge to stay in the EU.

“I will use absolutely every vehicle possible in order to do that, including voting in Parliament not to trigger Article 50. If I were leader of the Labour Party we would vote to block Article 50. Under my leadership we would be strong and we would remain in the European Union.”

At another point in the hustings Mr Smith received raucous laughter from sections of the crowd after he said he believed Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale was doing “a brilliant job”.

Mr Corbyn said he would be happy to work with Ms Dugdale, who backs Mr Smith for UK leader, and that he was “quite capable of forgetting” and moving on from her criticism.

The hustings came hours after shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, a close ally of Mr Corbyn, accused his own party’s officials of a “rigged purge” against supporter of the current leadership.

He said he was writing to Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNichol, to demand the reinstatement of Ronnie Draper, the general secretary of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), who was suspended on Thursday.

Mr Draper, who has been a party member for over 40 years, was suspended over tweets.

“The decision by Labour Party officials to suspend the Bakers’ Union leader, Ronnie Draper, from the party and deny him a vote in Labour’s leadership election over unidentified social media posts is shocking and appears to be part of a clear pattern of double standards,” Mr McDonnell said.

“While Ronnie, a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, has been denied his say in Labour’s election, no action is being taken over the Labour peer, Lord Sainsbury, who has given more than £2m to support the Liberal Democrats...

“Labour Party members will not accept what appears to be a rigged purge of Jeremy Corbyn supporters. The conduct of this election must be fair and even-handed.

“I am writing to Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, to demand that members and supporters who are suspended or lose their voting rights are given clear information about why action has been taken and a timely opportunity to challenge the decision.”

There was also a row earlier on Thursday about the suspension of a former adviser to Labour MP Stella Creasy from the party. Jonny Chambers was accused of making tweets in support of the Conservatives – he says he was only expressing an opinion about the candidates in the Tory leadership contest.

It also emerged that Lord Sainsbury, a former minister in the last Labour government, had donated £2 million to the Liberal Democrats during the EU referendum campaign. He had also donated £2 million to Labour.

He said he made the donations because “I believe strongly that coming out of Europe will be damaging to our economy and society, and dangerously so if we come out of the common market”.

There were two further minor embarrassments for Mr Corbyn on Thursday. The Labour leader had previously claimed an endorsement by US politician Bernie Sanders, but the party admitted he had been “misinformed by an aide”. Mr Corbyn was also revealed to lack nominations from his MPs in Ipsos MORI’s annual Parliamentarian of the Year survey, with only one backbencher putting his name down – an unusually poor showing for a party leader.

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