Keir Starmer predicts Labour members will still back Remain despite major conference setback
It is “very likely” Labour will shift to backing Remain, predicts Keir Starmer - despite members killing off a bid to get the party to back an explicitly anti-Brexit stance in a second referendum.
The shadow Brexit secretary said he had “a pretty clear idea” of how members felt about the issue, just minutes after delegates on the conference floor in Brighton shut down a motion aimed at forcing Jeremy Corbyn to explicitly back staying in the EU.
The annual gathering descended into chaos on Monday as it was voted down by a show of hands, sparking angry scenes and calls for an official count.
Instead, delegates threw their weight behind a compromise position tabled by its ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) and backed by Mr Corbyn which commits the party to holding a special conference to settle the issue after the next election.
Speaking at a fringe event shortly afterwards Sir Keir said he had been “disappointed” by the result.
“We had a vote and the vote went the way it did," he said. "I've said for some time, over and over again, that I would campaign for Remain so obviously I'm disappointed by the result."
But he insisted the party’s pro-Remain wing had made significant progress in the past twelve months, when Labour’s conference debated whether or not to back a second referendum at all.
He said: "Would I have liked for us to have gone a bit further on that vote today? Of course I would.
“But I don't want to take away from the fact that that is quite considerable movement over the course of 12 months."
And he said: "What the NEC said is that we'll have a special conference for the members to decide.
"I've got a pretty clear idea I think of where the members are on this and therefore I think it is very likely that the members will want us to campaign for Remain.
"We campaigned for Remain in 2016, we are currently campaigning for Remain against a Tory outcome - and it seems to me obvious where the membership is on this."
The Labour frontbencher was also grilled on Mr Corbyn’s suggestion he will stay above the fray in any second vote on Britain’s EU members.
That stance has already drawn fire from figures including shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and Sadiq Khan, with the London mayor arguing a “Remain party” could not stay “neutral”.
Sir Keir - who earlier on Monday urged delegates to fight for Remain - said: “I’ve got mixed feelings about that, and let me try to be as fair as I can.
“Brexit is a very difficult issue for the Labour Party, obviously, and it's very easy to say it's all about confusion. It's not."
He added: "What Jeremy's trying to achieve - in fairness - is to say, given the division across the country somebody's got to be prepared to say, we'll have a referendum.. and I'll stay above that and implement the outcome."