Keir: We MUST abide by result of Brexit referendum
Holborn and St Pancras MP suggests ignoring result could be 'corrosive to democracy'
08 February, 2018 — By Richard Osley
Keir Starmer answers questions at UCL on Tuesday evening
SIR KEIR Starmer told students on Tuesday night that Labour would not try to halt Brexit or push for a new referendum on Europe, insisting that the party’s MPs were united in favour of taking this stance.
He said opinion polls he had studied did not suggest the nation had changed its mind on leaving the European Union. That meant it would be “corrosive to democracy” to keep asking for the public’s view until the Remain side won.
Mr Starmer, the Holborn and St Pancras MP who is leading Labour’s response to Brexit nationally, told the students at University College London: “I went around the country encouraging people to vote in the referendum and I told them it was for real. I told them they had to go and vote because if they didn’t there would be serious consequences from leaving the EU. I’m not going to go back to those people and say: ‘Now you’ve given me a result I didn’t want I’m going to ignore it.’ I think that would be really, really dangerous.”
He added: “Before I went into politics I spent a lot of time as a human rights lawyer and did international work across the globe. In many countries, as you can imagine, where there is quite a challenging human rights environment, there either wasn’t a vote at all – or if there was a vote it was ignored. That was really, really corrosive to democracy and I think it’s absolutely right that if we do have a referendum we abide by the result.”
Mr Starmer said the difference between the Tories and Labour on Brexit was that the Conservatives were working on “tearing the UK out of Europe” but Labour wanted to keep close collaboration with Europe and retain trading opportunities.
His comments come with campaigns from both inside the Labour Party and beyond still calling for the party to move to a position of trying to halt Brexit – or at the very least securing a second referendum on the final terms of the divorce. Lord Andrew Adonis, a former adviser to Tony Blair and titled Baron of Camden Town, is touring the country in a bid to drum up support for a second nationwide vote, while former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Nick Clegg vowed not to give up the fight as he appeared at Fleet Primary School in Gospel Oak on Thursday evening at a packed-out event organised by the Open Britain group.
Mr Starmer said that at last year’s general election the Liberal Democrats had not picked up extra votes with their message of halting Brexit altogether because they had no fall-back position if the nation once again showed it still backed leaving the European Union. He suggested Prime Minister Theresa May could be out of office by the end of the year, having “failed to reconcile the differences in the Tory Party on Europe”.
Sir Nick Clegg talks to a packed out Open Britain event [Photo: Lars Christiansen]
Another general election could then be quickly called, he added, with Labour’s chances of victory “high”. Therefore, the MP said, the party needed to be united behind its position on Brexit. MPs fully supported the strategy taken by party leader Jeremy Corbyn and himself during negotiations. “Jeremy Corbyn was applauded into the Monday night meeting of the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) after the election and there was genuinely a sense that we’ve come together now and we are fighting as one team,” he said. “That’s a very, very powerful feeling, and it’s very real. I think there is much more unity on our position on Brexit than people may think.”
Mr Clegg, however, told the Open Britain meeting that pro-EU campaigners needed to carry on the fight to reverse Brexit altogether. “Why haven’t I simply retired? It’s the visceral rage that I feel that the young people of this country have been denied the future that they voted for,” he said. Labour politicians would be committing “the greatest act of betrayal in progressive politics in 100 years” by supporting a Tory Brexit, he added.