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Sir Keir Starmer says Labour had the 'right policy' on Brexit despite heavy general election defeat

3 min read

Labour had the "right policy" on Brexit at the general election despite its heavy defeat at the hands of voters, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The Labour leadership contender defended his party's opposition to "a deal we thought would be very damaging for our country".

But he argued that Labour had been too "indecisive" in failing to set out how it would campaign in a second EU referendum.

Labour went into the election promising to renegotiate Boris Johnson's deal and put it back to the country in another public vote.

The party said it would remain neutral on either that "credible Leave option" or staying in the EU until a special conference of members had decided its official position.

But the party's stance on Brexit has been blamed by some senior figures in the party for helping to hand the keys to Number 10 back to the Conservatives.

Sir Keir told Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "I thought it was the right policy.

"I thought we should have gone on, by the way, and said which side we would be campaigning on if there was a referendum.

"And I warned our party that if we looked indecisive, we wouldn’t look like we were leading on this issue."

Pressed on whether he still believed Labour's stance on Brexit was the right one, the Shadow Brexit Secretary said: "Yes, of course, because what we were doing, we were fighting against a deal that we thought would be very damaging for our country."

And he argued that Brexit had been just one of several reasons for the party's December defeat - pointing out that it had now lost four successive general elections.

Sir Keir said: "I think we all take responsibility for that devastating election loss… People brought up the leadership of the Labour party, fairly or unfairly; they brought up Brexit in different ways – what was said in the Midlands was different to what was said here in Scotland; they brought up the fact that they thought the manifesto was overloaded and they didn’t believe we could deliver it all and, in a number of places, they brought up anti-Semitism.  

"So, there were a number of reasons and we need to address all of them. But we’ve also, I’m afraid, got to face up to the fact that we’ve lost four elections in a row… Brexit wasn’t the cause of four election losses for the Labour party so an honest assessment of the nature of the task ahead is needed."

Sir Keir's Sky interview comes after he refused to promise Shadow Cabinet jobs to fellow leadership contenders Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey. 

Speaking at a leadership hustings in Glasgow, Sir Keir said he "saluted" both women.

But, asked whether he would offer them jobs, he added: "I don’t think any of us are going to get into jostling for positions on this."

That prompted a pushback from Ms Long-Bailey, the Shadow Business Secretary, who is seen as his closest rival for the top Labour job.

She said: "I feel a bit sad that Keir doesn’t want us in his Shadow Cabinet. 

"I know we don’t agree all the time, and our visions are probably very different, but we meet on areas of common ground, and that’s what would make us a strong shadow cabinet and I would have Keir and Lisa in my Shadow Cabinet."

But Sir Keir insisted he could unite the Labour Party if ends up succeeding Jeremy Corbyn.

He told Sky: "If we can’t unite our party and stop taking lumps out of each other, then we’re not going to win the next general election and so I want to bring our party together."

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