The Co-Chair of Vote Leave on why it isn't just the Conservative Party that is split over Europeby Prospect Team / April 26, 2016 / Leave a comment
The Labour Party already has “a division between MPs and members—and now we’re introducing one between MPs and significant swathes of our traditional voters.” So argues Gisela Stuart, Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston and Chair of the Vote Leave campaign—the official campaign for Britain to leave the European Union.
Gisela’s concern comes as Frank Field—Labour MP for Birkenhead—has said that in campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU his party has written “the second longest suicide note in [its] history.” (The first being the hard-left manifesto pushed by former Labour leader Michael Foot in 1983.) He argues Labour’s stance will push its traditional voters into the arms of Ukip.
In an exclusive interview with Prospect, Stuart said: “I don’t even think [campaigning for “Remain”] is in the long-term interest of the Labour party…. You’re facing a UKIP that wants to do in England to the Tories what the SNP did to Labour in Scotland. Rather than the Labour Party reaching out on this issue to significant sections of our voters who actually want to vote Leave, we’re not giving them an opportunity. We’re not even the party that—like the Tories—says we’re officially neutral [on the question of whether Britain should leave the EU]. You can be a Labour voter but go either way.”
Focus on party divisions over Europe has generally been concentrated on the Conservatives—over 130 of the party’s MPs will vote for Leave, in opposition to David Cameron. Stuart’s comments suggest there might be another split worth paying attention to.
On the issue of Labour’s leadership siding with David Cameron and George Osborne on the EU, Stuart said “I’m puzzled that people who in the past…were European Union rebels with me, including our current leader, have changed their minds and are now propping up a Tory government.”
Stuart also argued that Barack Obama—who last week visited the UK and expressed his desire for Britain to remain in the EU—should have stayed out of the debate.
“I think those outside [the UK] should do what American presidents have done in the past: not get involved.”
“The only people who matter in this debate are the British… All the outsiders have their own interests. I fully understand that President Obama wants TTIP (The proposed Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership between the United States and the EU) sorted…. I think people should not use [Britain’s EU debate] as a opportunity to come over and incite sentiments which are not part of the referendum.”
It has also been reported that Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right Front National, will visit the UK to campaign for Brexit. Stuart said: “all the comments I’ve seen from Marine Le Pen have been divisive and inflammatory, whether it’s in relation to what she’s said about Muslims praying in the streets, comparing them to the Nazi occupation of France, or what she said about Vladimir Putin.” (In February Le Pen praised Russia’s actions in Ukraine and called the country a “natural ally of Europe).
Stuart summed up her thoughts on a Le Pen visit: “I think that for her to take part over here, in what is meant to be a democratic process, will not be in the public interest.”
Interview by Jay Elwes, write-up by Alex Dean