Labour Left plots to force Sir Keir Starmer into softer Brexit stance

·4 min read
Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to ‘make Brexit work’ - Ben Birchall/PA
Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to ‘make Brexit work’ - Ben Birchall/PA

Labour Left-wingers are plotting to push Sir Keir Starmer to soften his stance on Brexit, The Telegraph has learned.

A coalition of the party’s hard and soft Left factions are seeking to put pressure on the party leader, who last month vowed that he would not take Britain back into the Single Market.

His comments were an attempt to clarify Labour’s Brexit position – but The Telegraph has been told they have galvanised the pro-EU movement on the Left.

In a keynote speech on Britain’s future outside the EU, Sir Keir pledged to “make Brexit work” and said there would be no return to a customs union or freedom of movement.

He said that under Labour, Britain “will not go back into the EU. We will not be joining the Single Market. We will not be joining a customs union”.

His remarks provoked a backlash from senior Labour figures including Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor.

Sir Keir Starmer’s comments remarks provoked a backlash from senior Labour figures including Sadiq Khan - Stefan Rousseau/PA
Sir Keir Starmer’s comments remarks provoked a backlash from senior Labour figures including Sadiq Khan - Stefan Rousseau/PA

Michael Chessum, of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement, said Sir Keir’s Brexit stance was a “total betrayal” of those who elected him as leader.

“What the Conservatives have introduced is pretty much as hard as it goes – no Single Market, no customs union, no free movement,” he said.

“All the touchstones of any softening of Brexit are out of the window and you have Starmer saying we completely accept that.

“It is pretty shocking how far Starmer has gone, and it is a total betrayal of all the promises he used to get elected as Labour leader.

“He very clearly pledged to keep free movement – he was vocal about it in the leadership campaign.”

Free movement ‘has support across party’

The campaign, a network of grassroots activists and supporters, has drafted a motion to be put before the party’s annual conference in Liverpool next month.

The motion, which has won the backing of the socialist Momentum group, calls for Britain to re-enter Europe’s free movement area.

“It is certainly significant that Momentum is backing it – it is getting circulated generally among the Left,” said Mr Chessum.

“Free movement has support right across the party. There are people like Stella Creasy and Sadiq Khan, but also among the Corbynite base there was always a very large majority in favour of free movement and migrant rights.”

Ms Creasy, the MP who chairs the Labour Movement for Europe (LME) group, said its membership was “rocketing” and currently includes around 40 per cent of the parliamentary Labour Party.

She said around a third of new candidates selected to run as MPs for the next general election are LME candidates, meaning they have either endorsed the group or been nominated by it.

The prospect of a rebellion from his MPs is likely to put further pressure on Sir Keir to soften his stance on Brexit should Labour win the next election.

‘Honesty about problems Brexit is creating’

Preparations for an LME rally, held jointly with the Labour Irish Society and the Party of European Socialists on the first day of Labour’s conference, are under way. The event promises to feature a member of the party’s front bench as a headline speaker.

Ms Creasy said the group was not seeking to rejoin the EU or hold a second referendum but insisted “no option should be off the table” when it comes to how Brexit is implemented.

“That means, for example, we should absolutely look at what leaving the customs union and the Single Market has done to our ability to trade and discuss whether we should look to rebuild some of that,” she said.

“We want to see the Labour party leading with honesty about the problems Brexit is creating and a determination to fix them as soon as possible. We know that the Labour front bench wants to have the debate – we want to have it too.”

Ms Creasy is understood to have held a meeting with a group of communications consultants about how to launch a new push to soften Labour’s stance on Europe.