Well, that lasted long. From the moment Keir Starmer left the conference stage after setting out Labour’s Brexit position, rumours began to circulate that all wasn’t as it seemed. When the shadow Brexit secretary spoke in the conference hall this morning, he received a standing ovation for pledging to keep all options open on Brexit – including the option to remain in the EU; ‘Nobody is ruling out remain as an option.’
However, less than an hour later and dissent has broken out on the conference hall over the party position – and whether the shadow Brexit secretary correctly articulated the official policy. As Steerpike reports, that passage of the speech was not in the official text sent to hacks – leading to suggestions that it was not approved. Notably, the reception among Corbyn’s allies has been lukewarm at best.
I understand that the line was ad-libbed. Unsurprisingly, those comments have caused a row here at conference. While pro-EU members are pleased, others are at pains to say that Starmer is wrong – and that Labour policy does not include the option to remain in the EU. Len McCluskey’s deputy Steve Turner has taken to the conference hall stage to correct Starmer. He says Starmer was wrong and – adopting the John McDonnell line – that any public vote on the terms of departure rather than the idea of remaining in the EU. This is what the shadow chancellor said yesterday in an interview – and something Len McCluskey has also echoed.
The Tories have been quick to latch onto Starmer’s comments as proof Labour can’t be trusted on Brexit – something the Leader’s Office had been at pains to avoid. Although there’s a lot of noise over Labour’s ever-changing Brexit position, all the signs suggest that Corbyn and McDonnell are against a second referendum that could allow the UK to remain in the EU. Until that changes, Labour’s policy on a second referendum is flimsy at best – what ever Starmer gets up and says.