John McDonnell has defended the Labour Party’s decision not to hold a meaningful Brexit debate and vote at this year’s party conference in Brighton as “democracy at work”.
The shadow chancellor this morning said it had been up to party members to decide whether to hold a vote on Labour’s position, not the leadership.
It came after Labour’s election campaign coordinator Andrew Gywnne told HuffPost UK internal arguments over Brexit could tear Labour apart if it was “not careful”.
McDonnell told BBC Radio 4′s Today prgramme: “It’s democracy, the whole point of our party now is to hand our party back to the membership.
“In our new politics we are saying our conference has to be controlled by the members.”
McDonnell also told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “This is democracy at work. Our delegates, the people who control our conference now are no longer MPs, no longer the bureaucracy, it’s the rank and file delegates.”
Labour conference will debate Brexit on Monday but without a vote on any controversial motions.
Instead, conference will discuss and vote on on eight other issues: housing, social care, the NHS, rail services, workers’ rights, investment and growth, public sector pay and the Grenfell Tower disaster.
More than 80% of party members are former ‘Remain’ supporters, but Jeremy Corbyn himself is keen not to upset Leave voters.
In what appeared to be a bid to spare the Labour leader’s blushes, grassroots movement Momentum had earlier asked its members not to include Brexit in a list of motions.
When news of the decision filtered through to activists gathered at a fringe rally meeting of the centrist pressure group Progress on Sunday evening, delegates shouted out “shame” and began booing.
MP Jess Phillips told the rally the decision was “totally and utterly unacceptable” adding: “That is, frankly, f****ing ridiculous.”
Mary Creagh, the former shadow environment secretary, said the party had “ducked the biggest issue of the day”.
She told the BBC’s Westminster Hour: “On twitter someone has just said this is a slap in the face for all the supporters and members who went out campaigning in the general election. That’s how the membership and supporters are feeling tonight.”
The internal party row comes as David Davis embarks on a fresh round of negotiations in Brussels.
The Brexit secretary’s fourth set of talks in Brussels with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier comes after Theresa May sought to map out the way forward in a keynote speech in Florence on Friday.