Labour civil war erupts as MP who lost Leave-backing seat slams Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry

Posted On: 
15th December 2019

Labour has been plunged into open warfare as a former MP who lost her Leave-backing seat took direct aim at Sir Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry for pushing a pro-Remain line.

Caroline Flint said voters "didn't trust" Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Credit: 
PA

Caroline Flint, who ceded her Don Valley constituency to the Tories on Thursday, warned that neither the Shadow Brexit Secretary or Shadow Foreign Secretary could become the party's next leader because of their stance on Brexit.

Speaking on Sky News, Ms Flint blamed Labour’s catastrophic defeat on both Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the party’s policy of seeking a second EU referendum.

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She said: “A number of people who have been ardent Remainers on our frontbench - people like Keir Starmer, like Emily Thornberry, [as well as backbenchers] Hilary Benn, Yvette Cooper - they have contributed to sacrificing 59 seats.”

And she warned: “I don’t believe anybody who has the architects of our European policy in the last few years is credible to be leader, I don’t think they can win back these seats.

“Keir Starmer led us to a policy that did not listen to Labour Leave voices who urged caution. He led us down the path of a second referendum, and I’m afraid Emily Thornberry did as well.”

Ms Flint also claimed that Ms Thornberry had told a Labour colleague in a pro-Leave seat: "I’m glad my constituents aren’t as stupid as yours.”

That claim was strongly denied by Ms Thornberry, who said: "This is a total and utter lie. I have never said this to anyone, nor anything like it, and I hope needless to say, it is not something I would ever think."

‘IN DENIAL’

Reflecting on the loss of her Don Valley seat, which Labour had held for 22 years, Ms Flint said Mr Corbyn and her party’s Brexit stance had been the problem, and that anyone who disagreed was “in denial".

She said: “On nearly every doorstep Corbyn came up as a negative. People didn’t trust him.

“Brexit came up time and time again too. And, the antagonism towards the Labour Party… seeing us as frustrating Brexit, as an overtly remain party was so negative and met with such hostility that it was really hard to fight.”

Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon echoed Ms Flint’s view that the party’s crushing defeat was down to Brexit, as he said "the biggest mistake the Labour Party made was perhaps underestimating the desire for people who'd voted Leave to Leave the European Union".

But the Labour frontbencher, who represents the seat of Leeds East, said it had still been possible for Labour to overcome scepticism about its Brexit position.

He told Sky News: "I represent a working class Leave seat... my constituency is a very working class area that voted by over 60% to leave the European Union.

"And as I say we got a bigger Labour vote there than we did in 2001, 2005 and 2010. But of course lessons need to be learnt. It was a disastrous election result and for that we're truly sorry.

"But I think.. this was a Brexit election. The next election won't be a Brexit election. But we need to look at ourselves and at our performance and how we lost votes with humility. We need to analyse that."

Ms Flint meanwhile expressed hope that Labour's next leader could be more relatable to voters in the seats where the party had shed support.

She said: “The balance in terms of the voices that are heard has gone too much towards the metropolitan cities and university towns, and away from these core areas.”

Other leading Labour voices have also called for a more representative leader, with Jon Trickett calling for Mr Corbyn’s successor to be from outside London.

And, John Spellar wrote that the next Labour leader needs to reflect "all parts of the country" not just "woke London Guardian columnists".