‘I won’t pretend Brexit isn’t a catastrophe’: Labour MPs condemn Jeremy Corbyn’s fence-sitting on whether to leave the EU – as leader’s allies threaten to stage a walkout during keynote speech by Remainer deputy Tom Watson
- Labour will go into the next general election sitting on the fence over Brexit
- But MPs have lined up to insist they will campaign to Remain regardless
- NEC chairman Wendy Nichols initially suggested Labour would support remain
- Ms Nichols then said: ‘I thought it was one way and Jennie said something else.’
- The motion was dismissed without a formal vote despite protests from the floor
Labour MPs warned they would not ‘pretend’ Brexit is not a ‘catastrophe’ today – after Jeremy Corbyn forced the party to stay on the fence over whether to leave the EU.
The leader survived a bitter battle at conference in Brighton last night, seeing off a bid to commit the party to campaigning for Remain at an election.
The showdown sparked extraordinary scenes, with claims of a ‘stitch-up’ after one of Mr Corbyn’s close lieutenants seemingly intervened to dismiss the rebel motion without a formal vote.
However, senior figures immediately made clear they would ignore the result. Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said he was ‘disappointed’, but it was ‘obvious’ the party would end up backing Remain.
Former frontbencher Thangam Debbonaire said: ‘It’s important to tell the truth – leaving EU will be catastrophic for the UK, people who voted leave as well as those who voted Remain. We can pretend that’s not the case, but I won’t. I’ll campaign for what I believe in, and that reflects Labour’s internationalist values.’
Labour MP Owen Smith told The Daily Telegraph it was ‘shameful for our Lexit [Left-wing version of Brexit] leadership to stitch it up without a proper vote’.
Tensions could rise again later when deputy leader Tom Watson gives his speech to conference. Allies of Mr Corbyn dramatically bungled a ‘drive by shooting’ attempt to oust the Remainer over the weekend – and they are now threatening to stage a walkout during his keynote address.
Jeremy Corbyn (pictured at conference last night) still faces trouble despite surviving the revolt by Remainer activists
Emily Thornberry (left) and Keir Starmer (right) both made clear they wanted Labour to adopt a full-hearted Remain stance
Jeremy Corbyn was accused of a ‘stitch-up’ over Labour’s Brexit policy yesterday after one of his lieutenants appeared to change the course of a vital vote. Critics said the vote by Labour members on Brexit was too close to be decided on a show of hands
A flustered Ms Nichols said: ‘Sorry, I thought it was one way and Jennie said something else.’
NEC chairman Wendy Nichols (right) initially suggested those who had put forward a motion for Labour to campaign ‘enthusiastically’ for Remain had won the vote. But after General secretary Jennie Formby (left) intervened, Ms Nichols then said: ‘I thought it was one way and Jennie said something else. That was lost’
Amid chaos at the party’s conference last night, general secretary Jennie Formby seemed to overrule the chair to prevent a defeat for the leader.
Wendy Nichols, head of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), initially suggested those who had put forward a motion for Labour to campaign ‘enthusiastically’ for Remain had won the vote.
But she then appeared to change her position after Miss Formby, intervened.
A flustered Ms Nichols said: ‘Sorry, I thought it was one way and Jennie said something else.’
Ms Formby could be heard in the background saying: ‘Yes, it is lost.’
Labour chaos: How last night’s three votes on Brexit left delegates shouting ‘stitch up!’
Labour delegates voted on three crunch Brexit motions last night.
The first vote was on a motion put forward by Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee calling for the party to be neutral on Brexit until after the next general election.
The motion received the overwhelming backing of delegates as a clear majority raised their hands to show their support for it.
Then came the second, and most controversial, vote on a motion calling for Labour to commit to campaigning for Remain right now.
Delegates were again asked to raise their hands and the chair of the meeting decided that there was a clear majority against the move and it was announced that it had been rejected.
However, a number of delegates were left furious at the decision as they believed the show of hands was close enough to warrant a recorded vote.
But their calls for a formal so-called ‘card vote’ were rejected and the chair moved onto the third and final vote on Brexit.
That was on a similar motion to the one put forward by the NEC, calling for the party to be neutral.
That vote was passed by a clear majority after another show of hands.
Ms Nichols finally agreed: ‘That was lost.’
As a number of members called for the issue to be moved to a formal vote using ballot boxes, Ms Nichols could be overheard saying: ‘They are calling for a card vote. There is enough of them on their feet, is there not?’
But she then said the decision would stand without a further vote – sparking fury from delegates.
Earlier, Mr Corbyn appeared to be showing the strain as one of his biggest union backers joined shadow cabinet members in criticising his plan to stay neutral.
The Labour leader launched an extraordinary tirade at reporters as they questioned whether he was losing authority on Brexit.
Mr Corbyn – who used to refer to himself as ‘Monsieur Zen’ – shouted at a media scrum as they jostled to ask questions, saying: ‘This is our conference, these are our stalls… your behaviour is totally unacceptable.’
Yesterday he urged members at Labour’s annual conference in Brighton to back a plan for him to go into a general election promising a second referendum, but without saying which side he would campaign for.
Instead, he proposed that after a Corbyn-led government has attempted to negotiate a new Brexit deal with Brussels, members should take the decision for him at a special conference.
That conference would decide whether to back Remain or the Labour-negotiated deal.
But Unison, which is one of the country’s biggest unions, broke ranks to declare it would oppose the leader’s Brexit fudge and vote for him to back Remain immediately.
Usdaw and TSSA, two other smaller unions, joined the revolt. Mr Corbyn’s proposal was emailed round the NEC and endorsed without a formal meeting on Saturday, despite opposition from some members.
Jon Lansman, boss of the Corbyn-supporting Momentum campaign group and an NEC member, yesterday said: ‘There was no meeting, no discussion, no consultation with the membership.
‘On one of the biggest issues of the day, this is a travesty. Across the membership there are many different views on Brexit, and on conference floor members should feel free to vote with their conscience.’
Last night SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: ‘Labour rejects a clear pro-Remain position and instead stays firmly perched on the Brexit fence. An abdication of leadership.’
But shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘I think most people will realise that the Labour Party membership is so overwhelmingly in favour of Remain, it’s obvious where this will end up.’
Amid chaotic scenes at the party’s conference, general secretary Jennie Formby (left) seemed to overrule the chair to prevent a defeat for the leader
DOMINIC SANDBROOK: What would Britain look like under Jeremy Corbyn? Take a trip back to East Germany
A young Jeremy Corbyn took his paramour on holiday in the long, hot summer of 1976. Their destination was not Cornwall or the Costa del Sol but somewhere rather more forbidding: the German Democratic Republic.
At the time, East Germany was one of the most repressive societies on earth. The secret police, the Stasi, employed almost 100,000 people to spy on their fellow citizens. Dissenters were imprisoned. Would-be refugees, fleeing towards the Berlin Wall, were shot in cold blood.
Among the many areas of life controlled by the East German state, perhaps the grimmest was the school system. On seizing power in 1945, the Communists’ closed down all private schools. An entire generation of teachers was purged. Textbooks were destroyed.
A young Jeremy Corbyn took his paramour on holiday in the long, hot summer of 1976. Their destination was not Cornwall or the Costa del Sol but somewhere rather more forbidding: the German Democratic Republic
Now, with alternatives banned by law, children were taught about ‘the history of the working class, the Russian revolution and the achievements of the Soviet Union’. The aim, writes the historian Anne Applebaum, was to turn out young men and women who would ‘never even conceive of opposing Communism’.
This was where Mr Corbyn chose to go on holiday. And given the blood-curdling proposals coming from this week’s Labour Party conference, from massive new union privileges to a 32-hour working week, it seems he wants to re-run the East German nightmare in 21st-century Britain.
As in East Germany, the most potent symbol of Mr Corbyn’s extremism is his party’s decision to back the abolition of private schools, a policy with no equivalent anywhere in the democratic world.
Now, with alternatives banned by law, children were taught about ‘the history of the working class, the Russian revolution and the achievements of the Soviet Union’. This was where Mr Corbyn chose to go on holiday
Quite apart from the assault on ambition and personal freedom, such educational vandalism would leave the State with a bill for educating 615,000 extra children overnight. The total cost would probably be at least £5 billion a year, on top of the £4 billion the Treasury would lose in taxes.
How many ordinary taxpayers, I wonder, would welcome such a bill, merely to indulge the infantile fanaticism of the Corbynista elite? The really chilling thing, though, is that this is merely one element of a broader ideological project.
Indeed, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s proposed 32-hour working week ‘with no loss of pay’ could prove even more damaging, since it would eviscerate business profits, undermine investment and leave us crippled in the competition for global markets.
The truth, I am afraid, is that for the first time in Labour’s post-war history, its leadership does not believe in the concept of the private sector. Like its Communist heroes, it thinks there should be no such thing.
With any other Labour leadership, that might sound a bit over the top. But Mr Corbyn’s Labour Party is unlike any Opposition in modern British history.
Mr Corbyn’s Press chief Seumas Milne wrote an infamous column for The Guardian defending Stalin’s Soviet Union for its ‘genuine idealism and commitment’, and even claimed that East Germany delivered ‘social and women’s equality’.
His chief political adviser, Andrew Murray, spent 40 years in the Communist Party of Great Britain, where he was notorious for his consistent defence of Stalin. And Mr McDonnell openly says that his ‘most significant’ political influences were ‘Marx, Lenin, Trotsky’.
These are not ordinary politicians. Patriotic Prime Ministers such as Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan — both of whom sent their children to private schools — would have been disgusted to see such fanatics posing as the guardians of the Labour Party’s traditions.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s proposed 32-hour working week ‘with no loss of pay’ could prove even more damaging, since it would eviscerate business profits, undermine investment and leave us crippled in the competition for global markets
At first, Mr Corbyn and his cultists managed to fool people. But as time has gone on, talk of a ‘kinder, gentler politics’ has been exposed as a fantasy, leaving only the reality of their sectarian authoritarianism.
Indeed, in almost every sphere of political life, Labour’s intolerant extremism is now plain for all to see. In education, for example, Mr Corbyn would not stop at abolishing private schools. His acolytes want to scrap all faith schools, whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish, apparently oblivious to the role their predecessors played in educating generations of Labour politicians.
They want to scrap grammar schools, despite the fact that they reward aspiration and are hugely popular with ordinary parents. They even want to scrap free schools, which have given many parents a proper choice for the first time in decades.
What else? Mr McDonnell wants to force landlords to sell properties to their tenants at a discounted rate, despite the fact that many landlords are ordinary, decent people who rely on rental income to survive.
On top of his criminally destructive 32-hour-week, he plans to make companies hand out ten per cent of their shares to their staff, even though this would cost businesses more than £300 billion. He also plans to seize privately owned land to build more houses, and to impose massive new taxes on people with second homes.
For Middle Britain the consequences are terrifying. If you have the temerity to run a business, own a holiday home, rent out a flat or send your children to a private school, Mr Corbyn’s foam-flecked outriders are coming for you.
With horribly predictable irony, many of them were privately educated themselves. Corbyn and Murray both went to private schools, while Milne and his crony James Schneider both went to silver-spoon Winchester. Indeed, many of Mr Corbyn’s cronies sent their children to private schools.
Now these repellent frauds want to deny other parents the choices they took themselves! Can you think of anything more shameless, more selfish, more downright hypocritical?
Corbyn (right) and adviser Andrew Murray both went to private schools, while Seamus Milne (left) and his crony James Schneider both went to silver-spoon Winchester. Indeed, many of Mr Corbyn’s cronies sent their children to private schools
What I find really disturbing, though, is not the hypocrisy, which has been standard on the Left for years. It is the aggressive intolerance, the hectoring stridency, the talk of banning people from doing this and forcing people to do that.
The reason previous Labour Prime Ministers never banned private schools, private medicine and private landlords is not because they were traitors, as the Left now claim.
It is because they were decent politicians who respected people’s right to make their own choices, and knew that one of Britain’s most precious gifts to the world was the tradition of individual freedom.
No country in Europe bans private schools, just as no other European country forces businesses to hand out shares to their workers. Indeed, the further east you go, the more people would be appalled by such ideas because they know at first hand the horrors that lie at the end of that road.
With their characteristic dishonesty, Comrades Corbyn and McDonnell often present themselves as the heirs of Clement Attlee, Labour’s greatest prime minister.
But Attlee, who went to Haileybury, would have seen them for the ignorant extremists they are. Communism, he once said, was ‘barbaric’, a ‘ghastly travesty’ that sought to turn men and women into slaves.
By contrast, he said: ‘We in the Labour movement do not believe in this dead dull uniformity. On the contrary, we believe that variety is of the essence of a free society.’
With their characteristic dishonesty, Comrades Corbyn and McDonnell often present themselves as the heirs of Clement Attlee, Labour’s greatest prime minister
It says it all about this week’s Labour Party conference that if Attlee rose from his grave and said those words today, he would be jeered from the stage.
That his party has fallen into the hands of such intolerant, illiberal hypocrites is a tragedy. But at least now the battle lines are clear. And for all the Brexit hullaballoo, this, I think, is the real ideological confrontation of our time.
If you believe in parental choice and individual ambition, if you dream of a better life for your children, if you believe people have the right to the rewards of their effort, then Jeremy Corbyn is out to get you.
And if, by some horrible mischance, he wins power, it will be the greatest disaster in our political and economic history, a blow to freedom and decency from which Britain may take decades to recover.
It really is as simple as that.
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