Fresh Labour split as Emily Thornberry admits ‘concern’ over election before referendum policy

Posted On: 
10th October 2019

Emily Thornberry has risked a row with Jeremy Corbyn after admitting she is “concerned” about his plan to support a general election before a second Brexit referendum.

Emily Thornberry with Jeremy Corbyn
PA Images

The Shadow Foreign Secretary said a snap vote after the 31 October deadline would effectively be a “quasi-referendum” on whether the UK should leave the EU.

Her comments came amid reports that John McDonnell and Keir Starmer both raised concerns at a Shadow Cabinet meeting about Labour backing an election once no-deal is taken off the table.

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According to the Financial Times, the Shadow Chancellor said it was a "trap" being laid by the Conservatives, who currently have a healthy poll lead over the opposition.

Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson has also said he supports having a second EU referendum before a general election takes place.

Speaking on the Victoria Derbyshire showm Ms Thornberry said: "My concern about if we had a general election, is it would be a kind of quasi-referendum, that it would be all about in or out, what kind of deal, and so to a certain extent I can see the sense in trying to have a referendum first.

"But it’s really just a question of how can we do that in practice."

She added: "A general election ought to be about a whole load of issues, people tripping over, people sleeping in the streets, foodbanks, not having enough money for the NHS.

"Those are the sorts of things we ought to have a general election on.

“But if all of the oxygen is swallowed up on Brexit then that decision we make on Brexit will ensure what government is in place for five years and they won’t just be dealing with Brexit, for heaven’s sake, there is life after Brexit and we need to have an appropriate government for that.”

Ms Thornberry’s comments came shortly before Mr Corbyn told an audience in Northampton that he is “champing at the bit” for a general election once a no-deal Brexit is ruled out.

He said: "Let me address this directly: Prime Minister, we can’t trust you not to break the law because you’ve got form.

"We can’t trust you not to use the period of an election campaign to drive our country off a no deal cliff edge that will crash our economy destroy jobs and industries cause shortages of medicine and food and endanger peace in Northern Ireland.

“So it’s simple: obey the law, take no deal off the table and then let’s have the election. We’re ready and champing at the bit. There’s only one reason it hasn’t happened yet – we can’t trust you.”

When pressed on when a referendum should take place, he said: “The second referendum is what we propose under a Labour government when it has been elected."