Labour’s Brexit stance is principled and courageous – it’s a shame some of my colleagues can’t see that

It’s easy if all you’re going to do is talk to Leave voters or just talk to Remain voters. But for a national party seeking government, we have to hold people, the country and our party together

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There was a lot of nonsense talked about the local elections, including by the BBC, which tried to equate Labour’s losses with those of the Tories. Of course, it’s highly regrettable we lost any seats, but our 84 losses were completely dwarfed by the Tory wipe-out of more than 1,300 losses. They were routed and Labour would be the largest party in a general election, based on these votes.

As far as the possibility of a general election is concerned, we say, bring it on. When we went into the 2017 general election, the polls had us 20 points behind. We made up those 20 points in the course of that election because we were given more fair and balanced broadcast coverage under law. We are definitely not frightened of a general election – we believe we can win.

The key issue that we were picking up on the doorstep in the local elections was Brexit. A dominant national party is unusual in local elections and sadly people were blaming the political class as a whole for the impasse of Brexit.

In 2015, the Lib Dems were decimated because of their involvement in the Tory austerity coalition. They’ve now come full circle as a receptacle for a protest vote. But we have seen these Lib Dem surges in local elections before and they don’t usually translate into real gains in a general election.

There is too a strange claim from the anti-Corbyn press about a lack of clarity on Brexit. It is even echoed inside the Labour Party. Yet we have been clear that what we really want is a general election and there’s nothing in the local election results to get us to swerve from that.

In the event that we are unable to force a general election, we are prepared to look at the circumstances in which a second referendum would be a way out of the current deadlock. It is important to remember though that we have a more challenging position than either the Conservatives or Lib Dems.

We represent some of the strongest pro-Remain areas, like my own constituency of Hackney North, but we also have some of the strongest Leave areas like some of those constituencies in the north and the Midlands. What we are seeking to do as a party is to hold the whole country together. It is easy for some people to jeer, but when this whole Brexit debate is over, there will be a country to bring together.

It is deeply troubling that Theresa May never mentions the 48 per cent of people that voted Remain; equally, the Lib Dems never mention the 52 per cent that voted Leave and why they wanted to leave. But what we have sought to do is difficult, and while you get jeered at by journalists and others who are deeply hostile to a Corbyn-led government, we are the only ones trying to hold the country together.

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It is regrettable that some colleagues fail to understand our position but we have set it out over and over and, most importantly, it accurately reflects the unanimous position of the party at conference. By no means do we rule out a second referendum. But we’re not a “second referendum in any circumstances” party. We are a party that wants what is best for the country.

It’s easy if all you’re going to do is talk to Leave voters. It’s easy if all you’re going to do is talk to Remain voters. But for a national party seeking government, we have to hold people, the country and our party together.

This is actually a more courageous and principled stance than those who want to speak to only one set of voters. Jeremy Corbyn has gone into some of the strongest Leave voting areas in the country and said to them that if you are struggling, if you are unemployed, if you have concerns for your children’s future, these issues are also being faced by some of the poorest in Remain areas.

We have not done what the Tories have done, which is to try to scapegoat migrants for this crisis. We have shown courage, stuck to our principles and will continue to do so throughout this process.

The deal that Theresa May is currently offering is not a good deal. We have repeatedly voted against it. The Tories have refused to move from their original red lines and the deal that they insist on is not in the interests of the country, of people’s jobs, or wages, or the NHS.

I have never seen the Conservative Party in such a state as this. The last time there was anything similar was when they were getting rid of Mrs Thatcher. Their party is now a shambles: a collection of factions, schemers and plotters. They do not have the votes in parliament for any deal that Theresa May could conceivably bring forward.

We will argue for our vision, of a customs union and a close relationship with the single market. If we cannot achieve these, increasingly, it seems the only way out of the current impasse is either a general election or a second referendum.

Diane Abbott is the shadow home secretary and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

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