Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer has dished out a stinging slap down to Labour’s leadership at conference telling delegates: ‘Nobody is ruling out Remain.’
His speech in Liverpool received the biggest cheers of the conference so far ending with a lengthy standing ovation. And during the speech around two-thirds of the audience spontaneously got to their feet to applaud the key passage
Afterwards it emerged that Sir Keir had added a line to his speech without the leadership knowing. The words that were approved by headquarters did not include the phrase about not ruling out Remain.
There has been confusion over the party’s Brexit stance during the gathering after both Unite boss Len McCluskey and shadow chancellor John McDonnell said any second vote would not include an option to stay in the European Union.
But Sir Keir said that if Labour could not secure a general election “we must have other options”.
“That must include campaigning for a public vote,’ he added. “It is right that parliament has the first say but if we need to break the impasse, our options must include campaigning for a public vote and nobody is ruling out Remain as an option.”
Earlier Sir Keir declined to rule out extending the Article 50 process, under which the UK leaves the EU two years after declaring its intention to quit.
Asked whether he could guarantee Britain would leave the EU on March 29, Sir Keir told TalkRadio: “Well the answer is it depends, because we don’t know when we’re going to get a deal.
“The October deadline might slip to November, November might slip to December. I don’t know, I’m not conducting the negotiations so the timeline is not in our control.
“I don’t think at this stage anybody is talking about extending Article 50 but if it has to be extended quite frankly it will be because of the collapsing failure of the discussions and the negotiations.”
Richard Angell, director of Progress – Labour’s centre-left movement – said: ‘A spontaneous standing ovation for Keir Starmer’s slap down of John McDonnell’s muddying of the water on Labour’s Brexit policy and clear message – if there is no general election Labour will campaign for a People’s Vote with a ‘Remain’ option on the ballot – showed the unity of the Labour movement behind a public vote on Brexit. Together Labour can stop the Tory hard Brexit.’
Outside the conference hall a senior Labour source added: ‘Keir has the balls to stand up to the leadership – they will be furious about this. He made McDonnell look daft after what he said yesterday. I think he has conducted himself really well. He may well be the saviour of this party once Jeremy has gone.’