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Leave Brexit solution to us, says Emily

Shadow Foreign Secretary tells critics of EU departure that hers is natural party of negotiation

29 September, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

Emily Thornberry: ‘Internationalists, pragmatists, progressives can find solution’

EMILY Thornberry faced the awkward task of appearing alongside European colleagues who called on her to oppose Brexit at the Labour Party conference this week.

At a fringe event hosted by the Fabian Society on Tuesday, the Islington South MP spoke as part of a panel that included Irish Labour leader Brendan Howlin, who described Brexit as a “profound tragedy”, former EU official Gerhard Stahl, who advocated further European integration, and economist Stephany Griffith-Jones.

But Ms Thornberry told the meeting that Labour would respect the outcome of last year’s EU referendum.

“We have to do that, because in the end we are democrats,” she said. “But the decisions that need to be made [in negotiations with the EU] will be made [if Labour wins the next election] by a party that is essentially internationalist, is progressive, and we’re pragmatists. I absolutely think we are going to win the next election. There’s been very little progress in the negotiations with the European Union. It’s the internationalists, the pragmatists, the progressives who can find a solution. That’s a challenge for us, but it’s a challenge for the EU as well.”

Ms Thornberry this week repeatedly talked about Labour being the “grown-ups”, painting the Conservative government as squabbling children who are messing up the negotiations in Brussels.

However, Labour’s current line of leaving Europe but being flexible about membership of the single market and the customs union has been described by critics as a “fudge”.

During the election campaign, the argument goes, it worked well because Labour was able to pull in Leave and Remain voters. But if Labour wants to govern, as it says it does, the party needs to set out a clearer position.

Asked what Labour’s was, Ms Thornberry told the Tribune: “We’re putting forward a position which is entirely consistent, which is we have to leave the EU but we have to prioritise the safety and security of our citizens and the economy.”

Would that mean staying in the single market? “I can understand journalists wanting us to talk in shorthand, [but] it’s a bit more complex than that,” she replied. “We need to have a Brexit that is tailor-made to Britain. And we’re a big and important enough country to the EU that it’s in their interest to ensure we have a relationship that’s going to work.”

Labour faced a backlash from pro-Europeans after the conference voted not to stage a contentious debate on Brexit and on whether or not the UK should stay in the single market permanently. The move was backed by the unions and the pro-Corbyn group with the tacit approval of the leadership.

But the Shadow Foreign Secretary said it offered more proof that Labour was being “pragmatic” over the issue.

She said: “Delegates voted and said they didn’t want to have a vote on issues in relation to Brexit. And I think there’s an acknowledg­ement that we’re being pragmatists in relation to the European Union. That’s certainly not what we’ve got with the Tories.”

Asked about her being tipped as a future Labour leader, she added: “I get embarrassed by this talk about what happens after Jeremy stands down, because it seems to me that’s another way of destabilising the Labour Party.

“He is emphatically the leader. He could not have been tested more than he has done.

“And personally I don’t like it [the speculation] because I want to be the Foreign Secretary.”


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