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Thornberry: ‘We DID need a second referendum’

Labour leadership hopeful says having a ‘single-issue election’ was mistake

17 January, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Islington South MP Emily Thornberry on election night

LABOUR leadership contender Emily Thornberry has defended her vocal support for a second referendum on Brexit, despite the party’s disastrous general election result.

The Islington South MP is among the final five aiming to succeed party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

But those who pushed for the party to go into the election with a pledge to have a final vote on Britain’s divorce on Europe – and a remain option on the ballot paper – have been warned they have work to do to convince members in former Labour heartlands in the North and the Midlands.

Unlike north London, many of those areas had supported Brexit, and critics of Labour’s recent strategy have noted in the post-election analysis how the party fared better in the 2017 general election when it was still vowing to honour the referendum result.

Ms Thornberry said yesterday (Thursday) she still believed the country should have had another vote on Europe alone.

“It was a single-issue election and one side was clear of what it stood for and the other side was not and that is what our problem was,” said Ms Thornberry.

“We should have pushed for another referendum because you shouldn’t have a referendum wrapped up as a general election.”

The Islington South and Finsbury MP spoke to the Tribune as she travelled to Loughborough to seek support from Labour-­affiliated trade unions as a way of getting into the next stage of the leadership election.

Ms Thornberry just managed to get the support of 22 MPs and MEPs by the deadline on Monday, the requirement to join other leadership hopefuls Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips in the next round.

The shadow foreign secretary had openly called on Mr Corbyn to shift position on Europe in favour of a new national vote on the EU deal.

The Conservatives, in contrast, traded on the three-word “Get Brexit Done” slogan ahead of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s commanding win at the polls.

Ms Thornberry said: “We should not have had a single-issue general election. That was a blunder. We allowed Boris to wrap himself in a lie that he could get Brexit done and we gave him five years of power.”

To get on the final ballot for members in the leadership election, candidates need nominations from 10 per cent of constituency Labour parties (CLPs), or the backing of at least three affiliated organisations including two unions.

Asked if she would try to take Britain back into the European Union, should she end up becoming the leader of the opposition in parliament, Ms Thornberry said: “I can’t see it happening for quite a long time. Our immediate priority is to make sure the trade agreements we have and the security agreements we need in our relationship with Europe are agreed in a proper way that will look after our interests as a country.”

The Labour List website, aimed at party members, released the results of a poll of its readers yesterday which found that Ms Long-Bailey was the favourite with 42 per cent, while Keir Starmer was behind her on 37 per cent.

Ms Thornberry had only 1 per cent.

She said: “It is a long campaign and I think we are coming from a dark place. We need to move away from that and start looking towards the future.”

Ms Thornberry, who was first elected to the House of Commons in 2005, added: “As the campaign goes on and I get my voice heard I am really positive about being able to be the candidate that is the one who can unify the party, somebody who is fundamentally a campaigner.”

Ms Thornberry has faced the hurdle of sometimes being portrayed by the tabloid press as a remain-championing mem­ber of the “metropolitan elite”.

But she said yesterday: “I don’t believe Boris Johnson won seats in the North because he was from the North.

“What you need to be is good, strong, competent and clear. And you need to be someone who listens – someone who listens to the whole of the country, learns and provides solutions. That is what I can provide.”

Labour Party members will vote for their preferred choice of leader and deputy leader between February 21 and midday on April 2 with the result to be announced two days later.

MPs Angela Rayner, Rosena Allin-Khan, Dawn Butler, Ian Murray and Richard Burgon are on the ballot to become deputy leader.


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