Labour will be 'destroyed' like Lib Dems if it ushers in Tory Brexit, frontbencher Clive Lewis warns

Posted On: 
14th February 2019

Labour risks being “utterly, comprehensively destroyed” like the Liberal Democrats if Jeremy Corbyn ushers in a “Tory Brexit”, frontbencher Clive Lewis has warned.

Clive Lewis is a shadow Treasury minister.
Credit: 
PA

The shadow Treasury minister said it was “not the job of the Labour Party” to help the Conservatives take Britain out of the EU, as Mr Corbyn’s top team continues to hold talks with Theresa May in a bid to break the parliamentary deadlock over her Brexit deal.

Labour’s 2017 manifesto committed the party to delivering Brexit, with Mr Corbyn saying they could back the Prime Minister’s beleaguered deal if she gives in to his demands for a permanent customs union.

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But in outspoken comments, Mr Lewis said Labour was now sending “mixed messages” on Brexit - and he warned that the party could suffer a similar fate to the Lib Dems, who lost scores of their MPs at the 2015 election after five years of coalition government with the Conservatives.

The Norwich MP said: “We actually understand what needs to happen to bring our country together.

“But my fear is this: we saw what the Tories did to the Liberal Democrats. Everyone knows what to expect from a Tory government. They're rotters. Most people understand that. We don't expect much different. But if you look at what they did to the Liberal Democrats... [who] let's be honest, tried to ameliorate, soften what the Tories were doing on austerity - they failed miserably.

"It didn't do them any good. They were utterly, comprehensively destroyed by the British public. They are not forgiven because they were facilitating austerity - they facilitated the Tories doing that. And my fear is that what we are now doing is we are helping to facilitate a Tory Brexit.

“And the ramification for our party, I think, will be severe.”

The Labour frontbencher, who dramatically quit as a shadow minister over Brexit in 2017 before being welcomed back into the fold last year, said a future Conservative Party leader would try to make Labour share the blame if Britain's exit from the EU ended in "disaster".

Mr Lewis warned: “Just like the Liberal Democrats, when Theresa May has walked off somewhere, gone and put her trotters up after she has delivered her Brexit, and a new Tory leader comes in, he will say: 'she was a disaster for this country, she betrayed this country, but so too did the leader of the opposition. He was part of this sorry debacle and I'm now going to move forward to try and resolve this situation in the best way I can.’

"I'll tell you what: the Tory rightwing and the mainstream media will get behind that narrative and it is us, the Labour Party, who will pick up a lot of the flak for what happens.

“People understand that Labour didn't ask for this. People understand that Labour didn't want. But we're now sending these mixed messages out there. That is truly dangerous."

'WE CANNOT BE FOOLED BY IT'

Mr Lewis's shock intervention came as left-leaning Labour MPs lined up to attack Brexit at a ‘Love Socialism, Hate Brexit’ event in Parliament.

Shadow business minister Chi Onwurah said Leave voters had “won the right to be heard” in 2017 and said she “admired” the work of Mr Corbyn and Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer to try and deliver a left-wing Brexit.

But she warned: “Brexit will deliver a low-wage, low-skilled economy for the vast majority. We can’t negotiate good deals for our country without the solidarity of the European Union and the European socialist movement.”

Shadow transport minister Matt Rodda said that while he “wholeheartedly” backed Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s Brexit policy, leaving the EU posed a threat to “social solidarity” and could fuel the far-right.

And Paul Sweeney - a frontbencher in Labour’s shadow Scotland team - urged the party to keep Britain in the EU in order to shape the future of the bloc. He warned: "This is all a game to keep the Conservative Party in government… We cannot be fooled by it."

'BITCHING ABOUT THE LEADERSHIP'

The group - which also includes left-wing backbenchers Lloyd Russell Moyle, Rachael Maskell and Rosie Duffield - is calling on the Labour leadership to swing behind a second referendum. Labour's official policy is to keep "all options" on the table if it cannot secure a general election over Brexit, "including campaigning for a public vote".

The Guardian reported today that as many as 10 shadow ministers could resign if the Labour leader continues to resist pressure to support a so-called People's Vote.

PoliticsHome has also been told that a number of backbench Labour MPs could resign the party whip over the same issue.

But Mr Russell-Moyle kicked off the meeting on a “progressive” future for Britain in the EU by warning: "The reality is that if that vision includes setting up another party, well, leave the room.

“If that vision includes just bitching about the Labour Party or the leadership, well you can leave the room. Because that is not what is actually welcome here. That is not what will help the debate around Europe."