Keir Starmer has told Labour conference ‘if you want to fight for Remain – vote Labour’ just minutes before the party opted not to take a Remain stance in a controversial vote.
The shadow Brexit secretary’s speech came prior to a controversial vote in which the party leadership’s position – that it will remain neutral in a referendum campaign – was narrowly carried.
He announced that a Labour government would hold a referendum on within six months of taking office, and added:
“If you want a referendum – Vote Labour. If you want a final say on Brexit – Vote Labour. If you want to fight for Remain – Vote Labour.”
However, despite his passionate argument to “Remain and reform” in Europe, Starmer’s speech stopped short of calling on the rest of the party to officially back the stance.
Following his speech, the conference held a vote on the issue which was immediately disputed by delegates, with the chair refusing to hold a confirmatory card vote.
MORE: Labour ‘dodges most important political choice in generations’ with Brexit voteThe events have rather overshadowed Starmer’s speech, in which he outlined the reasons Labour campaigned for Remain in 2016.
“We did so because we are internationalists,” he said. “We stand in solidarity with our friends and neighbours in Europe. We profoundly believe in peace, reconciliation, human rights and collaboration across borders. Socialist values. Our values. Then and now. And let those values guide us on the road ahead.”
He was scathing about Boris Johnson, saying: “It tells you all you need to know about Boris Johnson that we had to pass a law to stop him taking us out of the EU without a deal and that his first instinct is to try to find ways to break that law.”
While a no-deal Brexit would be fine for comfortable Tories like the prime minister and Dominic Cummings, it wouldn’t be for ordinary people, he said.
“Manufacturing would be torn apart,” said Starmer. “The service sector decimated. There would be chaos and delay at our borders. Vital foods and medicines will not get through. EU citizens will be left in limbo. And the Good Friday Agreement could be imperilled.”
That agreement is not just a treaty, he said. “It’s the manifestation of peace.”
But, he said, preventing a no-deal Brexit would not heal the UK’s divisions.
“Conference, there is only one way forward – put it to the people!” he said, adding: “Too much has happened in the last three years for this now to be decided without the consent of the public.
“We need to ask the public whether they are prepared to leave with the best deal that can be secured. Or whether they wouldn’t rather Remain in the EU. The people must have the final say.”
Britain faces another “lost decade” if Labour loses a general election, he said.
“The choice is stark,” said Starmer. “Lose, and the 2020s could be another lost decade. A No Deal Brexit, on top of a hard-right agenda that will strip back rights and protections and sell off public services. Win, and Labour can pull this country back from the brink: end austerity, rebuild our public services, and invest in our communities.”