- Jeremy Corbyn refuses to turn the Labour Party into an explicitly anti-Brexit party.
- Launching Labour’s European election campaign on Thursday morning, Corbyn resists calls to campaign for a second referendum.
- The Labour leader is under growing pressure following big gains for pro-Remain parties in last week’s local elections.
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LONDON – Jeremy Corbyn has rejected growing calls for Labour to become an explicitly anti-Brexit party, at the launch of his party’s European elections campaign on Thursday.
Corbyn has been under intense pressure from Labour Party members and Members of Parliament to make a firmer commitment to a backing a new referendum and campaign for Remain in any new public vote.
However, speaking in Medway in Kent, Corbyn said he would only back the “option” of a new referendum if either forcing a general election or changing Theresa May’s “bad” Brexit deal were not possible outcomes.
“We can never accept the government’s bad deal or a disastrous no deal,” he said.
“So if we can’t get a sensible deal, along the lines of our alternative plan, or a general election, Labour backs the option of a public vote.”
He also emphasised that ultimately, it was Labour’s policy to deliver Brexit, telling a room of party members: “Over 17 million people voted to leave EU. As democratic socialists, we cannot ignore that.”
Corbyn criticised other parties for trying to “appeal to just one side of the Brexit debate” and said “Labour will never be the party of the 52% or the 48%.”
Andrew Adonis, a Labour candidate in this month’s European Parliament elections, said this week that his party should “spell it out” that it is a “Remain party.”
However, Corbyn on Thursday presented Labour as being the party for both Remain and Leave voters, declaring that “the real divide in our country is not how people voted in the EU referendum” but “between the many and the few.”
“Some people seem to look at the issue the wrong way around,” he said.
“They tend to think the first question is leave or remain as if either is an end in itself.
“I think they’re wrong. The first question is what kind of society do we want to be?”
He added that British people would not allow themselves “to be defined only as ‘remainers’ or ‘leavers’ – labels that meant nothing to us only a few years ago.”
Labour’s opponents accused Corbyn of having a “personal obsession” with leaving the EU.
“It’s the same old broken record from Jeremy Corbyn. He is throwing all regard for the environment, for jobs and the NHS out of the window with his personal obsession with taking the UK out of the EU,” Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake said.
“It is clear that Jeremy Corbyn has trashed the hopes of Remainers. Like the Tories, UKIP, or the Brexit party, a vote for Labour at the European elections is a vote for Brexit.”
The Labour leader has been under intense pressure to make a stronger commitment to backing a new referendum.
Members of his Shadow Cabinet like Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, and Deputy Leader Tom Watson have pushed the idea of backing a referendum on any Brexit deal.
Labour has spent the last few weeks talking to Theresa May’s government about a potential compromise Brexit deal.
Those talks have so far been fruitless, with the government being unwilling to accept Labour’s policy of entering a permanent customs union with the European Union after the United Kingdom has departed.
Corbyn was downbeat on the chances of a breakthrough: “There has been no big offer and the red lines remain in place.”
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