The Labour Party’s deputy leader has “strongly” urged for the party to back staying in the European Union in a speech at the Centre for European Reform this morning. The announcement is at odds with his leader Jeremy Corbyn who has refused to take an anti-Brexit stance, despite demands from some parts of his shadow cabinet. The speech from Mr Watson, which says Labour “hearts are remain”, will heap more pressure on Mr Corbyn to make a statement declaring his party’s strategy over Brexit.
Mr Corbyn has refused to be drawn on the issue but the party’s manifesto back in 2017 said the Brexit referendum result of 12 months previous must be respected.
Key Brexiteers within the party, including chairman Ian Lavery also insist there should not be another public vote.
However, Mr Watson today insisted: “Pro-European is who we are and who we have always been. Our members are Remain. Our values are Remain. Our hearts are Remain.
“The only way to break the political deadlock is to bring the public back into this decision, and we must argue strongly to remain.
“Our future doesn’t need to be Brexit. We can change our future. We can put Britain back at the heart of Europe again.
“We can be proud of leading the fight for a fairer and stronger future, together. But we can only achieve this future if Labour fights for it and champions it. It’s time we do that.”
Mr Watson added: “What unites young people is they don’t see British culture in isolation for european culture and they are fearful this country is about to jettison on a dip creative partnership.
“Our belief in the EU has been whispered not shouted. It’s been taken as read by generation of labour politics the EU is at best a necessary evil.
And the Lib Dems are also piling pressure on to Mr Corbyn’s party with its pro-remain strategy winning over anti-Brexit Labour supporters.
BBC political correspondent Nick Eardley today said the speech poses a huge problem for Mr Corbyn.
He said: “The big test will be persuading Jeremy Corbyn – and so far the Labour leader has been reluctant to fully embrace the case for stopping Brexit.”
In the speech Mr Watson argued the EU backs Labour core principles.
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He said: “Some people have begun to equate support for Europe with class identity – I don’t think that’s right or helpful.
“The majority of Labour people are supportive of Europe and that support is not dictated by social class.”
Labour’s deputy leader also called for citizens’ assemblies to help the country navigate difficult issues.
As Mr Watson gave his speech, Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery tweeted: “Brexit has turned this country into a toxic nation. However ignoring the 17.4m leave voters isn’t politically smart nor indeed particularly democratic. Is it? #simplysaying.”
Labour’s emerging civil war over Brexit comes as the Tories also come to blows over the EU exit in the current leadership race.
Tuesday could well see Remainer Rory Stewart go head-to-head with arch Brexiteer Boris Johnson in front of the BBC cameras on Tuesday night.
There are currently five candidates remaining in the leadership contest with one to drop out after a ballot of Tory MPs between 3pm and 5pm tomorrow.