POLITICS
22/09/2019 12:16 BST | Updated 22/09/2019 13:04 BST

McCluskey Tells Pro-EU Shadow Ministers To Back Corbyn Or 'Step Aside'

Powerful Unite union boss fires a warning shot to shadow cabinet members like Emily Thornberry and Sir Keir Starmer who want Labour to back Remain.

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Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey gives a speech on Brexit during the TUC Congress in Manchester.

Shadow cabinet members like Sir Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry who disagree with Jeremy Corbyn’s neutral stance on Brexit should quit his top team, powerful union boss Len McCluskey has said.

In a shot across the bows to senior shadow ministers, the Unite general secretary said they should “step aside” if they want to continue calling for Labour to back staying in the EU.

Corbyn has already committed to a second referendum, but wants to first win an election and negotiate a new Brexit deal with the EU, before putting it to the people versus Remain.

He is insisting on staying neutral on which side Labour should back until the deal is negotiated, sparking a furious internal row at the party’s conference in Brighton.

A Labour source said this “looks like Len’s view”, suggesting shadow cabinet members will be free to back Remain while Corbyn’s position on Brexit is neutral.

McCluskey said he believed Corbyn’s approach would win the day against members and MPs who are attempting to force the party to back Remain in a vote on its Brexit policy on Monday.

And he warned top shadow cabinet members to get behind the Corbyn plan if it is formally adopted by the party, or face calls for their sacking.

He told Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Sky News: “If they find that they can’t argue for it because they feel strongly, well of course, they have that right but they should step aside, and step aside from the shadow cabinet, which will become the cabinet, and they can argue whatever they want.

“But the policy and my appeals to them and to Emily and to anybody else [is] support your leader. 

“Emily Thornberry is a fantastic politician, she’s been loyal to Jeremy.

“If we get to a position where Jeremy is saying, let’s not make our decision on how we will campaign until we know what the deal (is), my appeal to her - support Jeremy and that’s my appeal to the whole of conference.”

Asked if he had “an issue” with shadow cabinet members saying they would campaign for Remain regardless of Corbyn’s stance, McCluskey said: “If they are in the leadership.

“Because of course, in this situation of the toxic nature, where, you know, the Tories have dismissed one half of the country, the Liberals have dismissed the other, in order for Labour to get through the message of unity and healing our nation everybody needs to be singing from the same hymn sheet.

“Now with the leadership team, the shadow cabinet, soon to be the cabinet, find that difficult then yes they should step aside.”

McCluskey has already rebuked deputy leader Tom Watson, who this weekend survived an attempt by party chiefs to scrap his job over his defiance of the Labour leader on Brexit.

And his decision to fire a warning shot to top shadow ministers threatens to inflame a row which risks overshadowing the entire conference.