Days before Brexit vote, Labour leader says party not ‘obsessed by constitutional questions’
— Jeremy Corbyn has downplayed the Brexit crisis by claiming that poverty and climate change are far greater priorities for Labour and the country.
Addressing Scottish Labour’s annual conference, Corbyn said his party was not “obsessed by constitutional questions, like the others are. We’re obsessed, absolutely obsessed, with tackling the problems people face in their daily lives”.
In an apparent effort to shift the focus away from his party’s deep divisions over Brexit, Corbyn said the UK’s greatest challenge was global warming. “We are facing a climate crisis. There’s no bigger threat to our future. And fundamentally, the destruction of our climate is a class issue,” he said.
“We believe that the real divide in our society is not between people who voted yes or no for [Scottish] independence. It’s not between people who voted to remain or to leave the EU,” he told party members in Dundee. “The real divide is between the many – who do the work, create the wealth and pay their taxes – and the few, who set the rules, reap the rewards, and dodge their taxes. So let me spell it out: our mission is to back the working class, in all its diversity. And that’s what drives our approach to Brexit.”
Lesley Laird, the shadow Scottish secretary, echoed his emphasis on poverty and class in her conference speech. However, the party’s pro-EU parliamentarians believe Corbyn’s remarks were designed to highlight his hostility to anti-Brexit forces within his party.
Ian Murray, a Scottish Labour MP at the forefront of the pro-Europe campaign, said Corbyn was right to point out poverty and climate change had been overshadowed by Brexit. But he added: “Where he is completely wrong is, we can’t resolve these issues with Brexit because Brexit makes delivery of them that much harder. His timing is off. The most meaningful vote on Brexit, the biggest vote in parliamentary history, is next Tuesday. So we need laser-like focus on that, please – and the rest we can deal with later.”
Stephen Doughty, a pro-remain Welsh Labour backbencher, said Brexit was a “rightwing Tory project that threatens communities that depend on Labour. [There] is no such thing as a Labour Brexit or a jobs-first Brexit”.
The Scottish party has been beset by bitter rows over Europe after a conference statement by its two MEPs, David Martin and Catherine Stihler, was allegedly edited to remove remarks in support of a people’s vote.
With pro-European figures in the party convinced that both Corbyn and Labour’s Scottish leader, Richard Leonard, prefer Brexit to remaining in the EU, its Scottish executive decided to include backing for a second referendum in Sunday’s conference agenda only on Thursday night.
Corbyn insisted that Labour would attempt to block Theresa May’s deal in Tuesday’s Commons vote and resist a no-deal exit from the EU. Hinting at his lack of enthusiasm for a second referendum, he stressed again that he wanted a general election, before adding that only if that did not take place “we will be ready to support a public vote to prevent disaster”.
Corbyn said Labour would commit his party to a target of reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, a goal many climate experts and campaigners say is not fast or ambitious enough to halt runaway climate change.
“It’s working-class communities that suffer the worst pollution and the worst air quality,” he said. “It’s working-class people who will lose their jobs as resources run dry. And it is working-class people who will be left behind as the rich escape rising sea levels.
“Big corporations will never do anything serious about it. The Conservative government will never do anything serious about it either. But Labour will make it a central objective of our industrial strategy. We need to reduce our net emissions to zero by 2050 at the latest. It’s not just an ecological priority – it’s a socialist priority too.”
Corbyn also addressed the antisemitism problems engulfing Labour, saying he was “utterly determined” to rid the party of the scourge. He said that, rather than fighting within itself, his party should turn its fire on the Tories. “The only thing that can hold us back is if we were to turn our fire on each other rather than on the Tory government and the wealthy establishment interests they represent,” he told delegates.
The Labour leader added: “Racism, religious bigotry and misogyny have no place whatsoever in any part of our movement. And we will root out antisemitism in our party, and in society at large. And I am utterly determined to achieve that.”
by Severin Carrell, Dan Sabbagh | The Guardian