Brexit: Jess Philips backtracks on suggestion Labour could campaign to rejoin EU

Exclusive: ‘I can’t see a campaign to rejoin winning support in the next Labour manifesto,’ says leadership hopeful

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 06 January 2020 10:43 GMT
Jess Phillips says she could campaign to reverse Brexit and rejoin EU if she becomes Labour leader

Labour leadership hopeful Jess Phillips has rowed back on her suggestion that the party could campaign to rejoin the EU under her stewardship if Brexit proved damaging.

The outspoken Birmingham MP set herself at odds with other contenders to succeed Jeremy Corbyn by saying "if our country is safer, if it is more economically viable to be in the European Union, then I will fight for that regardless of how difficult that argument is to make.”

But Ms Phillips appeared to backtrack from her comments to the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, instead saying that a campaign to rejoin the EU would not feature in the next Labour manifesto.

Writing exclusively for The Independent, Ms Phillips said: "People are asking me if I’ll lead the campaign to rejoin the EU. We haven’t even left yet!

"The honest answer is that I don’t know what the future will hold, but we must accept the result, move our country forward and hold Boris Johnson to account.

"I can’t see a campaign to rejoin winning support in the next Labour manifesto.

"Labour should always be an outward-facing and a pro-European party, but we know in our heads as well as our hearts that our failure to win the election means the terms of the debate have changed."

By contrast, rival candidate Sir Keir Starmer said the campaign for a fresh referendum “blew away” with the election result and that the conversation must “move on” to the realities of future trade deals.

The row comes as Labour's ruling body was expected to meet to hammer out rules for the contest to succeed Mr Corbyn in the wake of the party's disastrous election showing in December.

The National Executive Committee (NEC), which includes MPs, members and representatives of trade unions and affiliated groups, will also set the rules around who can vote in the race and the cost of becoming a registered supporter - non-party members who can vote in the race.

Ms Phillips is among a crowded field of contestants, including shadow cabinet members Sir Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry, Wigan MP Lisa Nandy and Norwich South MP Clive Lewis.

The left-wing of the party is thought to be coalescing around Rebecca Long Bailey, the shadow business secretary, as a continuity candidate for Mr Corbyn.

Ms Long Bailey, a protegee of shadow chancellor John McDonnell, has remained tight-lipped about whether she intends to stand.

Former deputy leader Tom Watson, who butted heads with Mr Corbyn during his tenure, said Ms Long Bailey stood for the same ideas that had lost Labour two elections.

Asked to name his least favourite candidate in the race, the ex-MP told Sky News: "The one that I worry about - but I don't know what she stands for - I mean, when I look at Rebecca Long Bailey, she's really the continuity candidate.

"She sort of stands for Corbynism in its purest sense and that's perfectly legitimate but we have lost two elections with that play.

"But she hasn't said anything yet; as far as I know she has not formally announced and it might be that she chimes a different note in her opening bid and that she wants to take the party in a different direction and she's very candid about what went wrong."

Meanwhile, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner is expected to launch her candidacy for deputy leader in Stockport on Monday. She is understood to be supporting her friend and flatmate, Ms Long Bailey, for leader.

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