MPs who flee the Labour Party over Brexit are “scabs” who will live to regret their decision, an ally of Jeremy Corbyn has said.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle’s stark message was aimed at eight of his former colleagues, who resigned this week in protest over anti-Semitism and Corbyn’s failure to be more pro-EU.
Speaking at an event in Westminster, the Brighton Kemptown MP also revealed Corbyn had come under huge pressure “behind closed doors” from MPs over the walkouts and was now “edging” towards a new “remain and reform” Brexit policy.
“We are getting to the right position with the leadership. It should never have been in doubt really,” he said.
“I am almost certain, when the votes come, that we will be in a position of remaining in and reforming the EU – and those scabs that left will suddenly regret the day that they ever left the Labour Party.”
The ex-Labour MPs, which includes high-profile EU campaigners Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna, now sit as a new Independent Group in parliament.
Three Tory MPs – Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston – left Theresa May’s benches to join them on Wednesday.
Russell-Moyle, who was joined at the ‘Love Socialism, Hate Brexit’ event by three shadow ministers and a Labour whip, said Labour must push to keep and even extend freedom of movement.
“We must be very clear in this party that we must be pro-migrant, we must be pro-free movement – and let’s extend out,” he said. “Let’s start with our nearest neighbours and, I hope, eventually the world.”
He went on to slate Tory Brexiteers as having a “racist” vision for the country’s future.
“To me that was what freedom of movement was about – bringing down those walls,” he said.
He added: “When they talk about leaving Europe and having a better relationship with the Commonwealth, it is a better relationship with the white Commonwealth – their vision of Brexit is explicitly racist, it’s a nasty, colonial vision.”
Shadow business minister Chi Onwurah singled out an article written by Umunna which said the UK should be prepared to sacrifice single market membership in order to axe free movement.
“I suspect he ain’t so proud of it now,” she said.
The Newcastle MP added: “At the same time, I wrote an editorial that said we in Labour needed to defend freedom of movement – and that is something I’m very proud of now.”
She went on to say the party was “struggling to find the right language” to discuss freedom of movement.
“I think it’s quite simple, we need to stand up for people,” she said. “Socialism is about people, ordinary people and people from everywhere and all backgrounds.”
Shadow environment minister Sandy Martin raised the prospect of Labour campaigning to rejoin the EU after Brexit.
“As members of parliament, we have got to try and do the most effective thing that we think we can do to prevent us from leaving without a deal, and if at all possible to prevent us from leaving at all – but that is not going to be easy.”
He added: “If we do leave, we need to rejoin if that is at all possible.”
Meanwhile, Labour whip Bambos Charalambous told the event, which heard from pro-EU Labour members threatening to rip up their membership cards over Brexit, that he was using his position to push for a second vote.
He said: “I’m also supportive of a second a second referendum and shouldn’t be here and talking to you.”
He said it was a struggle to talk round Labour MPs who have Leave constituencies, but added: “I’m trying to do what I can behind the scenes.”
In the wake of claims the party had not done enough to tackle anti-Semitism, shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, said her party must “confront” the far right with “strong anti-racist politics” and campaign for a second referendum.
“Yes, I am in favour of giving the public a final say, because why not – it is exactly what we need to be doing. I will be working with my colleagues [Lewis, Onwurah, Charalambous] on this because we need to reclaim the campaign for giving the people a final say,” she said.