Labour conference: Brexit vote decision sparks anger

EU flags at Labour ConferenceImage copyright

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There have been pro-EU protests outside the party conference

Pro-EU Labour MPs have expressed anger after no Brexit motions were chosen to be voted on at party conference.

Instead, delegates chose Grenfell Tower, rail, growth and investment, public sector pay, workers’ rights, the NHS, housing and social care.

Party sources said there would be no vote on contentious issues such as single market membership.

But shadow chancellor John McDonnell said there would be a debate on Brexit and a “very thorough” one.

He said: “There will be the normal report from the national executive committee and if people want to vote on that they can.”

The eight subjects which will be voted on were chosen by local members and trade union members. Jeremy Corbyn-supporting Momentum group had urged its members not to support a motion on Brexit, emailing them with an alternative list of subjects to choose.

Several Labour MPs tweeted their displeasure at the selection.

Former shadow chancellor Chris Leslie said the outcome was “utterly ridiculous” and former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw tweeted: “Keeping #Brexit, biggest issue of our time, off our #lab17 agenda is silly and undermines the claim that we are listening to our members.”

Chuka Umunna, of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign, tweeted: “I can’t believe no Brexit related motion is being debated at #Lab17 tomorrow. We should not be ducking this debate – we should be leading it.”

Labour said it had been up to delegates to choose which issues to prioritise, adding that there would be a session set aside for Brexit and international issues on Monday morning.

However, this will focus on approving existing policy, with none of the separate resolutions put forward by delegates on Brexit selected.

One source told BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg it was a “swindle” to suggest Brexit would be properly debated and discussed at the conference.

Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee will finalise an agreed statement on Brexit that delegates will be allowed to vote on, in an attempt to defuse tensions.

But the BBC understands that while it will keep options open, it will not commit the party to single market membership beyond the transition period.

‘Bespoke trade deal’

In a comment piece in The Times newspaper, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: “Subject, of course, to negotiations, remaining in a form of customs union with the EU is a possible end destination for the EU.

“We are also flexible as to whether the benefits of the single market are best retained by negotiating a new single market relationship or by working up from a bespoke trade deal.

“The public have lost confidence that this government can deliver the Brexit deal Britain needs. Labour are now the grown-ups in the room.”

Liberal Democrat shadow Brexit secretary Tom Brake said: “Corbyn’s anti-EU wing of the Labour party have won the day.

“Labour have again shown themselves to be neither here nor there, unable to come up with a coherent policy for fear of their own internal politics spilling out into the public.”

On Sunday, Mr Corbyn faced calls to commit Labour to stay in the EU single market and customs union after Brexit, but he warned this could affect the UK government’s ability to use state aid to safeguard jobs.

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