Emily Thornberry accuses 'dishonest' pro-EU Labour MPs of trying to overturn referendum

Posted On: 
21st June 2018

Emily Thornberry has accused pro-EU Labour MPs of "dishonesty" over their campaign for Britain to join the European Economic Area.

Emily Thornberry said it was time for more honesty in British politics.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary suggested many of them were doing it as a cover for their true goal of stopping Brexit.

Specifically, Ms Thornberry took a swipe at Chuka Umunna, who has been accused of hatching a plan to start a new party called 'Back Together'.

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Some 75 Labour MPs defied Jeremy Corbyn last week to back an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill calling for EEA membership - also known as the Norway option.

Speaking at a Westminster lunch, Ms Thornberry compared the Labour rebels - who are opposed to Jeremy Corbyn's stance on quitting the EU - to the European Research Group, which is made up of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs.

Among their demands is for the Government to back a so-called 'Max Fac' customs deal with the EU based on technological solutions to the Irish border problem.

She said: "I'm talking about our political culture as a whole. A culture where, for example, on one side of the House of Commons we have the European Research Group, and on the other we've got what we've been told is a Back Together group.

"Both of them engaging in earnest debate in the House and in the media about how to deliver the best deal for Britain. But the truth is that neither group actually cares what kind of deal we get, and neither is genuinely interested in an honest debate about the merits of Max Fac or the EEA.

"On one side they would like simply to crash out without a deal, and on the other their real driving mission is simply to reverse the democratic decision of the referendum.

"What I'd say to both groups is that if that's how you feel, why not be honest and simply say so rather than waste everyone's time debating options about the Northern Irish border that we all know will never work? Or options about our future trading arrangements that you know and we all know are totally unsuitable for Britain.

"Because when we get to March 2019, and there's either no deal or a bad deal on the table, we will all look back and say - as a government, as a parliament or as a country - 'we had three years to get this right, why on earth did we waste so much of it?'

"Part of the answer will be that we spent far too much time fundamentally engaged in pointless, dishonest debates, not just on Brexit but more broadly when we've got so much else we need to be doing as a country.

"It's high time for a less tolerant approach to politicians who trade in timewasting and dishonesty."


Ms Thornberry, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, added: "I'm not saying that everyone who was arguing in favour of the EEA were people who actually just want to stay in the European Union because I think some people genuinely feel that the Government are doing such a bad job in the negotiations that they need to have a safe port.

"But I think there were other people who were voting for it because it was a cover because actually what they want is to remain and there was a little bit of wrecking.

"I want to remain in the European Union, but I'm going to do as I'm told and I'm going to do everything that I can to make sure we get as good a deal as possible. But there are others who want to remain in the European Union and who are sometimes allowing themselves to indulge in things that are not realistic and who know that they're not and that's what's dishonest."

Elsewhere, the Labour frontbencher accused Theresa May of misleading voters by claiming a major cash boost for the NHS will come from a "Brexit dividend".

Ms Thornberry also said there were "strong arguments" for the next Labour leader to be a woman, and said she was opposed to the legalisation of cannabis.

A source at the People’s Vote campaign, which is calling for a referendum on the final Brexit deal, said: "Emily Thornberry has some cheek accusing politicians of touting ideas for the Northern Ireland border that won't work because that is exactly what she has been doing for two years now. Being in a customs union is necessary to avoid a hard border in Ireland, but it's not sufficient and she must know that.

"If she is so confident in her position, perhaps she would like to organise a ballot of the members of Islington South Constituency Labour Party about whether they support her pro-hard Brexit position."


Chuka Umunna said claims he was preparing to start a new party called Back Together were "a complete fabrication".

"I don't think accusing a whole bunch of your Parliamentary colleagues of being dishonest, and insulting and patronising them for sticking up for what they believe is best for their communities, is very diplomatic behaviour for a possible future Foreign Secretary," he said.

"It makes a good headline but is not a great look - if she has a problem with the 70-odd Labour MPs arguing for EEA membership, perhaps have a word with us first."