Labour must not fail voters at ‘crucial point’ in Brexit, says Tom Watson

Posted On: 
19th January 2019

Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson will today call on his party not to fail Britain at a "great moment of change" and urge the party to "engage intelligently" with Theresa May.

Watson's speech could be seen as a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
Credit: 
PA

His comments, at a Fabian Society speech in London today, come after Jeremy Corbyn declined to meet the Prime Minister for Brexit talks earlier this week unless she took the default option of a no-deal departure "off the table".

According to The Guardian, the frontbencher will say: “The country needs the leadership that only we can give. Let’s make sure we do not fail them.”

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Although the deputy leader does not mention his party leader directly, his speech will be seen by some as a thinly-veiled swipe at Mr Corbyn.

Mr Watson said his party had a duty to “engage intelligently” with the government, adding: “The prime minister must create the conditions for that engagement. And I fear her inflexibility and lack of imagination will mean she is unable to do so.”

He will also encourage Labour to appeal to those who have voted for other parties, rather than rely on their traditional supporters.

He will say: “We cannot rest on the manifesto for the last election and hope it will deliver victory for us in the next.

“We must turn our vision to rebuild Britain for the many, not the few into a programme that will deliver both within and beyond our traditional Labour base.”

He will also call on Britain not to “retreat” from international politics after the country’s departure from the EU.

He will say: “The history of the Labour party is entwined with the history of this international order, not, as some believe, opposed to it.”

BREXIT POLL

The speech comes as Mr Corbyn faces pressure from some Labour MPs to back a second referendum on Brexit.

The party's official policy is to push for a general election, but to leave the option of campaigning for a "public vote" on the table if that bid stalls.

Scores of MPs signed an open letter calling on the party to back a second vote this week, while Shadow Sports Minister Rosena Allin-Khan last night broke ranks to call on the Labour leader to "show leadership" on the issue.

However, some members of Mr Corbyn's top team remain deeply sceptical about backing a second vote, fearing it could alienate swathes of Brexit-supporting Labour voters.

In a sign of the dillemma the party faces, a leaked poll commissioned by the anti-Brexit Best for Britain campaign today suggests that almost a third of respondents would be less likely to vote Labour if the party was committed to stopping Brexit.

The survey, obtained by The Guardian, also claims that the party would lose as many voters as it would gain under such circumstances, with 9 per cent of Conservatives stating they would switch to Labour.

A spokesperson for the group said: “It was a private poll that shows, like all of our public polling, that Labour members and supporters are clamouring to fight Brexit. The poll shows that Conservative voters aren’t there just yet, but we are confident our campaign will get them there.”