Labour Brexit rebellion: Starmer warned his free movement policy change will not end well

Andrew Marr asks Keir Starmer if he’d reintroduce free movement

Clive Lewis, a former member of the party’s top team under Jeremy Corbyn, has vocally criticised Sir Keir after he dropped Labour’s pledge to bring back freedom of movement with the EU if he won a general election. Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday the party leader said Labour would have to make the current Brexit trade deal “work” if in power.

Asked if he would attempt to renegotiate aspects of the treaty to include freedom of movement, he said: “I don’t think there’s an argument for reopening those aspects of the treaty.”

Labour members voted in favour of adopting a policy vowing to keep freedom of movement at its 2019 party conference.

In the labour leadership contest, Sir Keir also promised to “defend free movement”.

The U-turn yesterday provoked anger from Mr Lewis who warned the Labour leader: “Top down, policy by diktat rarely ends well.”

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Lashing out at the apparent overturn of the party position on free movement agreed by Labour members, the Norwich South MP criticised Sir Keir for making a unilateral decision without consulting the membership.

He said: “What I think he actually meant to say was, respecting party democracy, he would seek to overturn the Labour policy of Free Movement at our next annual conference.”

The MP went on to suggest Labour’s new policy was akin to the pledges made by “English nationalists”.

His outspoken remarks come after the party’s Rosie Duffield last week said Labour MPs were “desperate to rejoin” the EU.

Criticising Sir Keir’s decision to tell MPs to vote in favour of Boris Johnson’s EU trade deal, she said labour frontbencher’s followed the leadership’s orders “with a very heavy heart”.

The Canterbury MP said pressure would be placed on Sir Keir to try and force him to change his position, saying: “We will try and shift the leadership, as and when it needs to shift towards rejoining I would imagine.”

In a veiled threat if the leadership failed to become more open to rejoining the EU, she added: “Possibly we might even have a different sort of set up, a different leader.”

“The majority of the parliamentary Labour party wanted us to Remain and were campaigning really hard on that and towards the end almost all of those people had signed up towards a People’s Vote,” she told the Huffington Post.

“All of that hurt is still there and we are still desperate to rejoin if we possibly can I think, at heart.”

A total of 37 of Labour’s MPs, nearly 20 percent, ignored Sir Keir’s orders to vote for the Government’s Brexit trade deal when it was debated in the House of Commons on December 30.

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There were 36 abstentions from Labour MPs, while one voted against the pact.

Three junior frontbenchers even resigned their from their posts to defy the leadership.

Tonia Antoniazzi, the MP for Gower, Helen Hayes, the Dulwich and West Norwood MP, and Florence Eshalomi, the MP for Vauxhall, all quit their roles in order to abstain in the vote.

Sir Keir claimed the deal was “thin” and “not what the Government promised” but said Labour would support it in the vote as it was better than no deal.

The Labour leader said in the Commons: “The choice before the House today is perfectly simple.

“Do we implement the treaty that has been agreed with the EU, or do we not?

“If we choose not to, the outcome is clear: we leave the transition period without a deal.

“Without a deal on security, on trade, on fisheries. Without protection for our manufacturing sector, for farming, for countless businesses. And without a foothold to build a future relationship with the EU.”

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