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Labour shadow cabinet split over Brexit plan when in government

Ben Gartside
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and shadow chancellor John McDonnell. PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images.

Splits between senior Labour MPs were on show last night as a dozen shadow cabinet members and ministers spoke on a panel at “Love Socialism, Hate Brexit” parliament.

A central topic at the event was whether Labour should campaign for Remain in a referendum against a Labour Government endorsed Brexit deal — which has huge implications over the future of business, trade, immigration, and therefore the economy in the UK.

Shadow Cabinet Members Dawn Butler, Jonathan, Ashworth, Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott spoke alongside other Labour MPs in favour of a referendum on the deal. A statement of support as read out from Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who could not attend due to constituency appointments.

“As socialists we must and we will campaign unequivocally to have a people’s vote and campaign unequivocally to Remain,” said shadow foreign secretary Thornberry.

“If Labour’s position since 2016 has been to argue for the outcome to this process which does the least harm to jobs and the economy, then no matter what deal is on the table, and regardless of which party has negotiated it, when it comes to a new referendum our position must be to remain in the European Union and oppose any form of Brexit, because that is logically the way to do the least harm to our jobs and the economy.”

The sentiment was echoed by Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth in his speech, who said “For the sake of the NHS, we need a referendum and we need to campaign for Remain.”

Speaking exclusively to Yahoo Finance UK after the event had finished, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer offered two different opinions on what Labour’s position should be in a referendum against a Labour-government backed Brexit deal.

READ MORE: Unemployment rate falls as Brexit takes its toll

Abbott told Yahoo Finance UK that “We haven’t decided yet” what Labour’s position would be in the hypothetical situation, while Starmer said seconds later that it was “very strongly his position” that Labour should back Remain.

Some Shadow minsters were frustrated with the message indiscipline, saying that they had grew accustomed to incidents like this in recent years.

Other speakers focused on issues around the economy and jobs.

Shadow business minister Bill Esterton spoke of his experience running a business during a financial crisis as to why Labour should adopt a Remain position: “I used to run a business. I know from trading internationally just how important it is for us to have access to that international market, but I also know just how important it is that we have a strong economy.

“My business fell off a cliff when we hit the financial crisis of 2007/08, an experience shared by many who ran businesses at the time of course...we have to have the strongest possible economy to deliver our programme of rebuilding Britain”