Emily Thornberry has denied ‘sneering’ at the working class and Brexit voters in a sustained grilling from Andrew Neil on the BBC.
Doing something that Boris Johnson has so far yet to manage, Thornberry sat in front of the BBC broadcaster to discuss her ambition to replace Jeremy Corbyn.
The shadow foreign secretary denied she was “sneering” at voters when she laughed at a colleague’s claim that anyone who does not hate Brexit has “something wrong” with them.
The frontbencher said that she was instead reacting with shock at her shadow cabinet colleague Dawn Butler’s remarks.
The veteran journalist played a video in which she sits next to Butler and laughs at her remark that “if anyone doesn’t hate Brexit, even if you voted for it, there’s something wrong with you because Brexit has not been good for the country”.
She said she laughed because she was “quite shocked” at her colleague’s “most extraordinary” remarks, adding: “I was not sneering.”
She said Labour can win back voters by “listening to people” and certainly not by looking down on them, and took aim at Boris Johnson for an historic article criticising working class men.
“When they say that I sneer at people they forget who I am and where I come from,” Thornberry said.
“It is the prime minister who has said that blue collar workers like my brother, who is a builder, are largely unemployed, have low self esteem and who are drunk.
“He’s talking about my brother. No one says that Boris Johnson sneers at people. Somebody like me who comes in the end from a council estate and from a single parent background – I do not sneer at people, I listen to people.”
Thornberry has been accused by former Labour MP Caroline Flint, who lost her seat in the disastrous general election for the party, of labelling Leave voters as “stupid” following the 2016 referendum.
But the shadow cabinet minister renewed her criticism of Flint for “lying” as she mounts legal action against her.
The Labour MP, who was a prominent supporter of holding another Brexit referendum, said she remained “open minded” about free movement from the EU.
And she disagreed with leadership rival Rebecca Long-Bailey’s pledge to ensure Labour parliamentary candidates need reselection by constituency parties ahead of each election.
Thornberry is trailing behind Long-Bailey, Starmer and Nandy in the polls and the race to get to the next stage by winning sufficient support from unions, affiliated organisations or constituency parties.
But she insisted she will get on to the ballot of members and other supporters, saying “it will be up to the members in the end”.