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.
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.