Camden MPs to campaign for remain but delegates vote for neutrality
Labour promises second referendum if party wins general election
27 September, 2019 — By Richard Osley in Brighton
Holborn and St Pancras MP Sir Keir Starmer was in the thick of action at the Labour Party conference
SIR Keir Starmer appeared at a seafront rally in Brighton demanding a new Brexit referendum on Saturday.
But while the Holborn and St Pancras MP made clear that he would then campaign for the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union, delegates at the Labour Party conference later voted to adopt a neutral stance.
The clash of views ran through the conference, with supporters of party leader Jeremy Corbyn backing his call to stay neutral, while others stood desperate for the party to throw itself into a Remain campaign.
The party lost ground in areas like Camden at May’s European elections to Liberal Democrat rivals who were vowing to stop Brexit. Around three-quarters of residents in Camden who took part in the 2016 referendum on Europe had wanted to stay in the union.
Mr Starmer said: “I’ve said many times I will campaign for Remain but let me be very clear I respect all of those who argue the other way.”
Labour’s current stance is to have a general election once a no-deal Brexit is completely off the table. If the party was then to form a government, Mr Corbyn’s party would attempt to negotiate a new withdrawal agreement.
This new deal would then be put to a referendum, alongside the option of remaining in Europe.
Mr Starmer said that all the work to prevent a no-deal Brexit was only “an insurance policy” and that a referendum was needed to break the deadlock. While division on the issue was impossible to conceal on Monday evening, by Tuesday morning members on all sides of the party had unified in condemnation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a dramatic Supreme Court ruling said his prorogation of parliament had been unlawful.
MPs were immediately called back to Westminster and were back in the Commons yesterday (Wednesday) where Mr Johnson was facing a cacophony of calls to resign.
MPs had already passed legislation designed to prevent a no-deal Brexit before Mr Johnson, who has set himself a “do-or-die” Halloween deadline to leave Europe, asked for parliament to be suspended.
Mr Starmer said: “We have beaten the Tories in parliament. As and when is necessary, we will beat them again in parliament but soon we are going to need to beat them at the ballot box.It’s a stark choice: if we lose, we risk another wasted decade, a no-deal Brexit, a hard right agenda, stripping away rights and protections and selling off public services.”
Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq is among the most pro-Remain Labour MPs in the House of Commons having broken the whip to vote against the triggering of Article 50 – the mechanism which kickstarted Brexit negotiations – in the first place. She reaffirmed that she would not stay neutral in any new referendum. “I will not support any form of Brexit,” she said. “EU membership is the best deal for the UK and that’s what I will continue to fight for.”
Her rigid Remain stance led her to be supported by Gina Miller’s Best For Britain campaign group, which supported MPs across different parties at the 2017 general election.
Council leader Councillor Georgia Gould also said she would not stay neutral in the event of a new vote, and insisted that Camden was still a “remain borough”.
She said: “I’m a passionate remainer and Labour values are of internationalism: working together to solve problems, whether it’s climate change or the refugee crisis. So I will continue to campaign for Remain and to push the Labour Party to take a stronger Remain position.”
The Lib Dems agreed to a policy of cancelling Brexit altogether – if they win power – at their conference last week. The Conservatives are still due to meet for their annual conference in Manchester next week despite the recall of MPs.