Labour's Emily Thornberry criticises second referendum campaigners for ‘slapping’ Jeremy Corbyn instead of fighting Brexit

Posted On: 
6th January 2019

Emily Thornberry has accused campaigners for a second Brexit referendum of using the movement to "slap" Labour.

Emily Thornberry at the Labour Party's 2018 annual conference
Credit: 
PA Images

The Shadow Foreign Secretary said some associated with the cross-party People’s Vote movement saw the campaign as more of an “opportunity to attack” senior opposition figures, rather than making the case to stay in the bloc.

Ms Thornberry’s comments come after a YouGov poll of around 25,000 people commissioned by the campaign found that Labour could trail the Conservatives by up to 17-points in an election if the party’s MPs back Brexit in the Commons.

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Meanwhile, Labour chairman Ian Lavery yesterday blasted calls for a fresh vote as “disrespectful” - before insisting there had already been a vote by the “people” in 2016.

"I have been sticking by the fact that I was elected on a manifesto pledge to respect the result of a referendum in which 17.4m people voted," the Wansbeck MP told the Evening Chronicle.

When asked about her colleague’s comments, Ms Thornberry told BBC 5Live’s Pienaar’s Politics today: "I think some people within the People’s Vote movement seem to think that their purpose is to slap the Labour party around."

She added: “I think, and I’ve said this to them myself, that it is a perfectly legitimate campaign for them to be involved in.

“What I would like them to particularly be focussing on is taking the arguments as to why we should remain in the European Union to those people who voted to Leave and to try and change some hearts and minds, rather than using it, as some people I think do, as an opportunity to attack the Labour party and the leadership of the Labour party.

“Because I don’t think that that’s actually helping anybody. I think that what we need to do is raise our eyes from this and look at what’s good for the country as a whole.”

The frontbencher went on: "What concerns me about the People’s Vote movement is, as I’ve just said, is that instead of spending their time trying to change people’s minds, they spend their time smacking the Labour Party around the head, some of them.”

Her intervention comes ahead of the planned vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal this month, after it was initially put off in December.

Ms Thornberry reiterated that Labour’s policy remains to vote down the agreement, push for a general election, and then keep the option of a second referendum on the table if it cannot secure an election.

Labour MP and key People’s Vote supporter Chuka Umunna told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge this morning that the campaign for a second referendum did not yet have the support of a majority of MPs.

“I’m not going to be disingenuous and pretend we have the numbers for a people’s vote on the terms of our withdrawal from the European Union right now,” he said.

“But obviously what happens now and how people feel now will be very different after we’ve had that vote and let’s be absolutely clear, the prime minister gave a pledge on the 17 December, at the despatch box, in the House of Commons that we would have that meaningful vote in the week of the 14 January.

"If she doesn’t have that vote she arguably will have misled the House of Commons and there will be moves on a cross party basis from the backbenches to ensure that the will of the house is tested on whether they wish to support her so-called deal.”

A spokesperson for the People's Vote campaign said: “Emily Thornberry is badly mistaken if she thinks the People’s Vote campaign is intent on “slapping” the Labour leadership - or anyone else.

"What we are doing is highlighting the biggest poll on Brexit yet which shows that Labour will suffer its worst electoral defeat since the 1930s if it continues promising to enable some sort of Brexit to go ahead.

"In that situation, it won’t be us slapping the leadership but millions of Labour voters who want the party to fight for the public services, rights and living standards that will otherwise be hammered by any kind of Brexit deal.”