POLITICS
12/11/2020 00:57 GMT | Updated 12/11/2020 08:53 GMT

Corbyn's Ex-Frontbenchers Attack Starmer Over Brexit 'Whitewash'

Laura Smith, Jon Trickett and Ian Lavery urge Labour leader not to "bury under the carpet his role".

Keir Starmer must apologise to Leave voters for Labour backing a second Brexit referendum and “not bury his role under the carpet”, three of Jeremy Corbyn’s former shadow ministers say in a new report.

Laura Smith, Jon Trickett and Ian Lavery, the former party chairman, say the party cannot rebuild trust with “red wall” voters, many of whom voted to leave the EU, without “settling of accounts” on the issue. 

Starmer succeeded Corbyn in April and was previously Labour’s Brexit spokesman. They warn of attempts to “whitewash” the recent past by the party changing its tune on quitting the bloc.

It comes as the three figures launch a report on Thursday called No Holding Back, seen by HuffPost UK, which is the result of 50 different virtual events with Labour groups.

The report’s pointed conclusion says: “We would like to offer some comradely advice to the new leader.  

“Firstly, he should not bury under the carpet his role in Brexit. It will come back to bite him and Labour. Building trust is critical.  

“Secondly, to win back working people, he needs to listen. Focus groups only tell you what you want to hear.” 

The report does not mention Starmer, nor does it mention anti-Semitism, despite the party having been found to have harassed Jewish members under Corbyn’s leadership. 

Writing a joint piece exclusively for HuffPost UK, the three figures go further in challenging Starmer over the Brexit issue, which they say lost the party scores of seats in the north and midlands.

PA Wire/PA Images
(left to right) Labour MPs Jon Trickett, Ian Lavery, Andrew Gwynne and Jeremy Corbyn's ex aide Karie Murphy

It comes as Boris Johnson struggles to get a trade deal finalised with Brussels and Labour switched its position to “get a Brexit deal done”. 

The trio write: “We do not believe that the party can move on until it has put this issue behind us. 

“For those who will say that the matter is behind us and we should move on, we say it will not do to whitewash or to ignore the recent past.”

Adding that voters and activists “all deserve an explanation” for the party pivoting to back a second referendum, with the option of Remain on the ballot, they add campaigners were targeted for aggression because the position the party took.

They add: “It must be a settling of accounts with Leavers, of course – but also with the Remainers, some of whom were falsely led to believe that we might be able to Remain.

“And we must apologise to our activists who often had very difficult encounters on the doorsteps. We must pledge not to attempt to overturn a similar democratic vote in the way we did.” 

The report levels a claim at the party’s new leadership that Labour has lost touch with working class voters. 

It also makes a number of suggestions on economic policy for Starmer to consider. 

They call for a Covid profiteering tax, ”so the likes of Amazon are paying their fair share in this crisis”, and an outsourcing tax on profits from work contracted out during the pandemic.

The report also calls for a “cronyism watchdog”, with “a jury-like board who are selected from the electoral register” from which politicians should be barred. 

The trio also call for stronger community organising to find working class people to stand for parliament, rather than central party mechanisms ensuring candidates are “parachuted in” – a criticism levelled at all former leaders, including Corbyn. 

It says: “The old days of parachuting political professionals into working class communities that they have no connection to must now end in totality. Labour needs to reverse its thinking; encouraging the grassroots to grow rather than imposing candidates on high.” 

The report also addresses Corbyn’s perception as a leader among voters. 

Calling his style “unique”, it says his popularity nose-dived between the 2017 and 2019 election, with allegations of his lack of patriotism key. 

It says: “We should have constructed a progressive patriotism that was not about bending the knee, but about strengthening workers’ and trade union rights, celebrating racial diversity and promoting equality amongst all identities. It is possible to love your country and learn and reflect on its history proactively and critically.”

But the report reserves its strongest criticism for the party’s approach to Brexit. 

It says: We note that the leadership have reacted to the latest Brexit manoeuvres by the PM by saying in effect that he should ‘get Brexit done’. Now, where, we wonder, did we hear that argument before? And where would we be if we had accepted the referendum result as we had done prior to the 2017 election?”