TheLabor leadership contender Jess Phillipshas said she would be prepared to argue for Britain to re-enter the European Union at the next general election, opening a divide with theshadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, who has insisted labor must move on.
Boris Johnson’sBrexit bill cleared its first parliamentary hurdlebefore Christmas, and the prime minister is expected to use his comfortable majority to carry it through parliament in time for Britain to leave the EU at the end of this month.
When Phillips, who came third to Starmer in anearly poll of Labor members last week, was asked on the BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday whether Labor should become the party of rejoining the EU, she declined to rule it out.
“You would have to look at what is going on at the time. What our job is, for the next three years, is to hold Boris Johnson to account for all the promises, ”she said.
“So if we are living in an absolute paradise of trade, and we’re totally safe in the world, and we’re not going to worry about having to constantly look to America for our safety and security, then maybe I’ll be proven wrong. But the reality is that if our country is safer, if it is more economically viable to be in the EU, then I will fight for that, regardless of how difficult that argument is to make. ”
By contrast, Starmer, who has been one of the key figures pushing his party towards a remain position over the past months, told Marr he believed the matter was closed.
“We are going to leave the EU in the next few weeks; and it’s important for all of us, including myself, to realise that the argument for leave and remain goes with it. We are leaving. We will have left the EU, ”he said.
“This election blew away the argument for a second referendum, rightly or wrongly, and we have to adjust to that situation.”
He said debate would move on to Britain’s relationship with the EU, as a non-member. “The argument now is can we insist on that close relationship with the EU – close economic relationship but collaboration in other areas – and also, what is the framework now, forfuture trade relations? ”
Starmer launched his campaign for the leadership formally on Sunday, with a video highlighting his credentials instanding up for leftwing causes as a campaigning lawyer, and the slogan “Another Future is Possible.”
Other contenders include theleftwing favorite Rebecca Long Bailey, the Wigan MPLisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, andClive Lewis, the co-founder of the anti-Brexit campaign group Love Socialism Hate Brexit.
The race will swing into gear this week, with Labor’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) meeting on Monday to decide the ground rules.
Starmer rejected the idea that Labor’s pro-referendum policy, with which he was closely associated, had been the key factor undermining support for the party in leave-voting constituencies. However, he conceded, “we didn’t persuade on our policy”.
He suggested Labour’s lack of clarity about whether it would support leave or remain in that referendum was a problem – and claimed the party had failed to knock down Johnson’s claim that a vote for him would “getBrexitdone ”.
“We didn’t knock it down hard enough, and I’d have liked the opportunity to knock it down hard,” he said. “Because that was what was coming back: people were saying to us, ‘Ah: this’ll get Brexit done.’ We hadn’t wrestled that phrase to the ground.” He also cited an “overloaded” manifesto, the party’s leadership , and antisemitism.
Phillips said Labor’s key problem during the campaign was that voters did not trust it to deliver on its ambitious promises, including free broadband for every household.
“The fundamental thing is that the country didn’t trust us to govern. It didn’t trust us to deliver on what we were saying, ”she said.
Asked what she thought when she saw the free broadband pledge, which was based on a plan to renationalize elements of BT, she said: “What I thought was actually what I think lot of people thought, which was I wasn ‘ t sure how we were going to deliver that. ”
Phillips, the Birmingham Yardley MP, also questioned whether the full list of nationalisations promised by the manifesto – which included mail, water and energy, as well as rail – should have been Laborer’s priority.
On rail, she said thecase had clearly been made; but in other areas, she said, “We have to look to, in the future, how those services can better serve the public, and nationalization is one of those ways – but we have to make choices that people can trust that we will deliver ”.
Nandy echoed Phillips’s concerns about Labor’s manifesto. “First of all I wouldn’t have been offering free broadband,” she told the BBC Radio 5 live’s Pienaar’s Politics. “People said to us,‘ It’s all very well promising free broadband but can you sort out the buses? ’And that was the more pressing issue in their lives.” She added: “It’s not about whether you’re radical or not; It’s about whether you’re relevant. ”
Phillips said she would like to see new members joiningLaborin the coming weeks – and urged the party’s national executive committee (NEC) to allow them all to vote. “We have got to make our movement more representative of the people, so of course people should join,” she said.
“The reality is that at the moment, there is a huge amount of buzz about this contest. In the public glare, lots of people joining the Labor party, for the NEC to say, ‘Actually we’re not interested in you.’ That would look so incredibly bad for the Labor party, at a time when it needs to stop looking inside itself, and start looking outwards.
Phillips, who is accused by many on the left of the party of refusing to be sufficiently loyal to Corbyn, said, “This shouldn’t be a test now of how we feel about each other in the Labor party. This has got to be about whether the Labor party can speak, and connect, and be trusted by the public. None of it matters unless we can win an election. ”