Former Labour leadership challenger Owen Smith hints he could quit over Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit stance

Posted On: 
7th February 2019

Former Labour leadership contender Owen Smith has said he is considering quitting the party over Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit policy - and hinted that more MPs could follow.

Owen Smith challenged Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership in 2016.
Credit: 
PA

The Pontypridd MP told the BBC that while he had yet to make a decision on whether to walk out, he feared being asked to "row in" behind a decision that would make his constituents "poorer".

The comments came as Labour MPs gave a mixed reaction to a new letter from Mr Corbyn to Theresa May suggesting the party could back a "sensible" Brexit deal if the Prime Minister agreed to ditch some of her negotiating "red lines".

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Mr Smith - who challenged Mr Corbyn for the Labour leadership in 2016 - told PoliticsHome that he believed the letter "significantly weakens Labour’s position on Brexit".

And asked by the BBC's 5 Live if he could resign from the party over the row, he said: "I think that is a very good question and I think it’s something I and lots of other people are considering right now."

He added: "I haven’t come to that decision, but I do think I stood to be a Labour MP with an understanding of what I was doing, what my values were, what the values of the Labour Party were, what I wanted to do for the community I grew up in.

"I may be asked by the Labour Party to row in behind a policy decision that the party knows and the government knows is going to make the people I represent poorer."

The hint comes after fellow Labour MP Luciana Berger - who has been sharply critical of the party's handling of anti-Semitic abuse by some of its members - refused to rule out leaving the Labour fold.

Asked repeatedly whether she could leave the party, the Liverpool and Wavertree MP told ITV's Peston that there was "disaffection with the lack of leadership that we're seeing on all sides".

She added: "I'm focused on Brexit, that's my responsibility as a constituency MP... It's many people that have many different challenges, not just on Brexit - in terms of seeing leadership from all the main political parties.

"Politics at the moment looks very, very broken and that's what we need to address."

 

 

Mr Corbyn's letter to the Prime Minister makes no mention of an earlier call for a deal that secures the "exact same benefits" as EU membership.

However, it continues to press the prime minister to tweak the non-binding Political Declaration part of her Brexit deal to demand a permanent customs union, workers' rights protections and close alignment with the single market.

Some Labour MPs have welcomed the statement, with pro-Corbyn ally Chris Williamson calling it "unambiguous and deliverable".

Advocates of a Norway-style soft Brexit have also backed the letter, with Stephen Kinnock saying it could "break the deadlock" in the House of Commons.

Labour's Shadow Brexit Secretary meanwhile insisted that the letter did not shut down Labour's option of campaigning for a second referendum if Mrs May cannot secure an EU agreement that meets its tests.

He said: "This letter sets out in robust terms that the Prime Minister must abandon her Brexit red lines. It does not take the option of a public vote off the table."

But former Labour frontbencher Chris Leslie said: "Members and supporters who campaigned to remain in the EU will feel like they’ve been taken for fools by the leadership.”