Party leader reiterates his decision not to back leave or remain ahead of election

Jeremy Corbyn has repeated his insistence that his party will not take sides between leave and remain ahead of the election, as he said Labours Brexit policy really isnt complicated.

The Labour leader was delivering a speech on Brexit in the leave-voting seat of Harlow, Essex, as the partys election campaign gathers pace.

Its time to take the decision out of the hands of politicians and trust the people to decide, he said. This time the choice will be between leaving with a sensible deal or remaining in the European Union. Thats the policy. It really isnt complicated.

Boris Johnson wrote to Corbyn on Monday night, accusing him of failing to be clear about Labours policy, and asking which side he would take in a future referendum.

Asked whether opposition frontbenchers would be allowed to campaign on either side, Corbyn said a decision would be taken at a special Labour conference.

We will come to a view as a party and at that point we will give that view to the people of the country. Some shadow cabinet members, including Jon Trickett, have suggested they would be minded to campaign for a Labour Brexit.

Corbyn said: People sometimes accuse me of trying to talk to both sides at once in the Brexit debate, to people who voted leave and remain. You know what? Theyre right.

Why would I only want to talk to half the country? I dont want to live in half a country, he added.

He said working-class voters in Harlow and York leave- and remain-voting constituencies respectively are up against it but not against each other.

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Speaking before Corbyn, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, also insisted Labours position was simple. And Starmer warned that Johnsons deal could be a trapdoor to a no-deal Brexit in December 2020, after the environment secretary, Michael Gove, ruled out extending the transition period.

Under Johnsons withdrawal agreement, if a free trade deal with the EU cannot be struck, and the status quo transition period is not extended, the UK would revert to trading on World Trade Organization rules.

Starmer warned that if Johnson won a majority Britain would take a decisive lurch to the right.

Asked how confident he was that a deal could be negotiated and a referendum held within six months, Corbyn said: The deadline weve set for ourselves is a realistic one. We wouldnt be saying this if we didnt believe it to be realistic, and doable.

He repeated his warning that a free trade deal with the US could raise drugs prices by giving corporations access to the health service. Well say it again and again until it gets through to the White House: our NHS is not for sale.

As well as Starmer, who has been a keen advocate of a remain position, the carefully choreographed event at a hotel also featured the shadow employment rights minister, Laura Pidcock, who in the past has been more sceptical about a second referendum.

I did not come into politics to only discuss amendments, sub-clauses, and one piece of legislation over and over again: I came into politics to stand alongside people who are battling austerity, Pidcock said. People are not leave or remain: there are common bonds between people in my constituency who voted both ways.

We refuse to be driven down the road of leave and remain: we respect those on both sides of the argument. This election is about saving the planet, for goodness sake. Its about ending homelessness with a massive housebuilding programme. Its about saving the NHS, taking the profits out of ill health.

Labour hopes Tuesdays speech will help to draw a line under the divisive issue, and allow the party to shift the election debate on to other issues.

Corbyn
Corbyn with Labours candidate for Harlow, Laura McAlpine, and the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Harlow, where Corbyn was speaking, is a seat held by the Conservative Robert Halfon with a majority of just over 7,000.

Labour is targeting seats like these, but Halfon, who was out campaigning locally himself, said Corbyns promise of a second referendum with remain on the ballot paper would go down like a cup of cold sick here.

Hes come to a 70% leave area, with Emily Thornberry saying were a remain country: its like Dracula walking into a garlic factory, he said.

The Brexit party hopes it can take on Labour in some of its leave-voting heartland seats. Asked about that threat, Corbyn criticised the Brexit party leader, Nigel Farage, as a one-trick pony from a wealthy organisation with nothing to say about the issues voters care about.

He is not offering to defend the NHS, he is not offering housing, social justice, reducing equality in this country. He doesnt actually offer anything to any of those communities, Corbyn said.

The Labour leader has sought to prevent shadow cabinet members straying from Labours formal position that it will not decide its Brexit stance until after the election, saying on Sunday: The debate is over.

Labour faces an electoral threat from the Liberal Democrats in some remain-voting constituencies, but also needs to hold on to leave-voting seats.

The Labour candidate for Harlow, Laura McAlpine, said: This is our chance to kick out Robert Halfon, together with the Conservative government. She told the audience: Brothers and sisters, this society under the Tories doesnt work, adding that Brexit had been the biggest distraction from the real issues in peoples lives.

She urged Labour activists to take time off to help her campaign in the run-up to the 12 December election: Pledge to take the day off work, pledge to take the week off work we cant do it without you.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/nov/05/corbyn-insists-labour-brexit-stance-really-isnt-complicated

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