Jeremy Corbyn lays down law as he tells Shadow Cabinet Labour's Brexit debate is 'over'

Posted On: 
4th November 2019

Jeremy Corbyn has ordered his Shadow Cabinet to get behind the party's Brexit policy as he told them the debate about it is "now over".

Mr Corbyn told The Guardian that everyone in the shadow cabinet 'gulped' when he announced his backing for a general election.

Labour has been deeply divided over its stance on EU membership, with some Mr Corbyn's top team openly pushing for the party to back Remain in a second referendum.

But the Labour leader told The Guardian he had laid down the law at last week's Shadow Cabinet meeting, at which he also told them the party would be backing a December election.

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Mr Corbyn said he made clear that no one should stray from the Labour position of pledging to renegotiate the current Brexit deal and then putting it to a referendum, with Remain as an option.

However, the party would not decide how to campaign in it until after it wins the general election.

"I just said, ‘look, this debate is now over," he said. "We’ve done it, the party has now made its decision, and that’s it; and that’s what we’re going to campaign on’."

Mr Corbyn also made clear that he had personally decided to back Boris Johnson's bid to trigger an election despite objections from key colleagues including chief whip Nick Brown.

"I put it to them quite clearly: I said, our objections are now gone," he told the paper.

"We are now supporting a general election – and everybody gulped. I didn’t alert anybody in advance – it was my decision. On my own. I made that decision. And they gulped, and said, Yes Jeremy."

Labour's annual conference saw a heated debate over the party's stance on Brexit, with a motion calling on the party to campaign to stay in the EU being defeated.

Instead, party members overwhelmingly supported a motion backed by Mr Corbyn which commits the party to a second referendum but will see it decide on its campaigning position after the election. 

Mr Corbyn told The Guardian that the party's stance would not shift in the so-called 'Clause V' meeting, held to decide which parts of Labour's programme are included in its election manifesto.

"I don’t see why the Clause V meeting would want to change anything, because my whole strategy has been to try and keep the party, the movement and the country together," he said.

On Sunday Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey repeatedly refused to rule out campaigning for Leave in that referendum, instead making clear Labour would take a view after attempting to renegotiate a Brexit deal with the EU. 

"We’ll make an assessment of the deal at the time," she said.

"We’ll try and get the best deal that we possibly can. We’ve set out clearly what our negotiating strategy would be, a customs union, strong single market alignment, a floor under rights and protections and standards."

Ms Long-Bailey added: "If we get all of that then we’ll have a conference with our Labour party members to determine how we will campaign in that.

"It could be the case that we’ll get 70% of that and we have to make a judgement on whether we think the final deal is good enough for us to take forward but ultimately that decision will be taken at the time… We want to give them the full choice."

Other Labour frontbenchers, including Tom Watson, Sir Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry have been pushing for a more explicitly pro-Remain position.

But Mr Corbyn said the election would be "about the future of this country" as he moved to shift the debate away from Brexit.

"It’s about the cohesion of society," he said. 

"We can’t go on with austerity, poverty, inequality and injustice. We need a government that’s committed to reversing that. And we are the ones to do that."