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LABOUR’S position on Britain’s European Union membership is an “honourable objective” that “must not be abandoned,” Len McCluskey said today, amid mounting calls for the party to back a second referendum.
After the announcement of the European Parliament election results, senior Labour figures Richard Burgon, Laura Pidcock and Ian Lavery also jumped in to publicly defend the party’s position, which is to honour the 2016 referendum result and deliver a Brexit that puts jobs and workers’ rights first.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn torday confirmed that his priority remains a general election.
In his first comments since the election result, Mr Corbyn said: “There’s no majority in Parliament, there’s no legislative programme and Parliament has basically been given nothing to do by the government.
“I think [a general election] is a demand that should be made, and made as strongly as possible.”
His statement came in the face of calls for a second Brexit referendum by Labour figures including shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, whose city was the only region in England where the Brexit Party did not top the poll.
Mr Starmer said: “The only way to break the Brexit impasse is to go back to the public with a choice between a credible Leave option and Remain.”
Ms Thornberry claimed that Labour’s position was “not clear” to voters.
However, Unite general secretary Mr McCluskey said that the results show a country still “divided” by the decision to leave the EU in June 2016.
“For that, the blame lies firmly with the Tory Party, which has handled the Brexit process disastrously, causing despair and disillusionment among voters, driving many to Farage and his simplistic offer,” he added.
He conceded that the results — which showed huge gains for the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats — were “obviously disappointing.”
The Conservatives had a historic-low vote share, dropping to single figures compared to an almost 24 per cent vote share in the 2014 EU elections. Labour saw its share drop to around 14 per cent from just over 25 per cent in 2014.
Labour must “hold [its] nerve” ahead of a possible general election, Mr McCluskey said.
“That is the opportunity for Labour to go to the people to present its programme to transform our country, rebuilding our communities and restoring hope to those who feel abandoned by Westminster.”
Shadow justice secretary and Leeds East MP Mr Burgon said he believes that the party’s message of trying to unite Remain and Leave voters was the “right” one, but that it did not translate well in an election involving the polarised matter of Brexit.
“It was never going to work in this kind of low-turnout EU election where the people most interested in this important issue of Brexit, whether it is to Remain or Leave, came out to vote,” he said.
Shadow labour minister and North West Durham MP Laura Pidcock said she understands that the elections were used as a way of “expressing frustration” at the handling of Brexit.
She also said: “But tomorrow morning, working-class communities will wake to the same issues, worries and fears.
“We have to deliver a society that brings together Leave and Remain and works for all.”
Labour chair Mr Lavery emphasised that the party will “never turn our backs on the 48 per cent or the 52 per cent — we will seek the real solutions that will heal society and bring together the 100 per cent.”
Such interventions come after the EU Parliament elections showed strong results for parties that are either staunchly supportive of or opposed to Brexit.
The Brexit Party, led by former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, declared a victory after receiving 31.7 per cent of the vote.
Trailing them were the Liberal Democrats, who stood on an anti-Brexit platform and received 18.6 per cent, and Labour, which received 14.1 per cent.
Labour’s showing was strongest in the North West England and London constituencies.
However, the vote in marginal areas like Peterborough showed huge swings to the Brexit Party.
Alarmingly, many seats in Labour’s heartlands saw huge drops in support — over the perception that the party opposes Brexit.
In Dennis Skinner’s constituency of Bolsover, the party lost 20.7 per cent of its 2014 vote to receive 16.5 per cent of the vote share, while the Brexit Party received 49 per cent.
Such results have raised concerns among left-wingers and trade unionists close to the Labour leadership, with the fear that Labour’s standing in its traditional areas of support is being damaged.
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