John McDonnell says Labour braced for EU elections 'kicking' as he defends party's 'responsible' Brexit stance

Posted On: 
26th May 2019

John McDonnell has said Labour is on course for a "good kicking" in the European elections as he defended his party's move to try and "bring people together" over Brexit.

The Shadow Chancellor promised to work with Tory MPs to thwart an 'extremist' leader pushing for a no-deal Brexit.

Amid claims from Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson that the party has pursued a "mealy-mouthed" strategy on a second Brexit referendum, the Shadow Chancellor said it would not have been right to have "ignored all those people who voted Leave" in 2016.

Mr Watson - a vocal advocate of a so-called 'People's Vote' on Brexit - on Sunday used an opinion piece in the Observer newspaper to warn that traditional Labour supporters were set to desert the party in favour of those explicitly backing staying in the EU.

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"Never again can Labour policy on the most crucial issue of our generation find itself on the wrong side of its members and our voters," he warned.

But Mr McDonnell told Sky News' Sophy Ridge that while the party was likely to take an electoral hit, Labour had chosen not to take the "easy" route of taking a side in the Brexit debate.

He said: "I think we most probably will get a good kicking the election results tonight...

"We'll see. We're braced for that. But we had to do the responsible thing... I know it was hard and it was difficult.

"It was a hard road to follow. But someone had to be there and say can we bring the country back together again.

"And it would have been easy to go to one side, you know, to the Remain side and ignored all those people who voted Leave.

"That's not the nature of our party. We're the party that is trying to bring people back together again.

"That's been difficult, electorally, for us in these elections. Of course it has. But now we've got to move on."

And he said: "I understand where Tom's coming from.

"And I think he's expressing the sort of frustration he feels and many of our members feel and I understand that completely."

Mr McDonnell insisted that Labour could still push for a second referendum as part of efforts to block a no-deal Brexit, as he signalled that the party would work with Tory MPs to try and thwart any Conservative leadership candidate committed to leaving the bloc without a deal.

So far Tory leadership hopefuls Dominic Raab, Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey have all suggested that they would be willing to back a no-deal Brexit on 31 October.

But the Shadow Chancellor said: "We can't allow that to happen.

"We've got to move forward now, bring people together and block a no-deal. And if that means going back to the people, so be it."

He added: "I think the next step for us now is bringing the other opposition parties together for a discussion about where we go from here - and yes, talking to a number of those Conservative MPs as well.

"Because... there's a real threat now of an extremist Brexiteer becoming the leader of the Conservatives and taking us over the cliff-edge of a no-deal, no matter what damage there is to jobs and the economy."