“The Last Person Defending the Party Position”
Documented: Jeremy Corbyn on his Brexit Policy on August 19, 2020
In the Podcast of the British magazine Tribune Jeremy Corbyn explains to Grace Blakeley:
“I think the issue that dominated everything was obviously Brexit, in the end. I campaigned for a yes vote in the referendum because I felt we should remain and reform the European Union.
We didn't win that referendum. The result was what it was. And after that, the party then went into a long, serious debate and there was huge pressure for a second referendum, in order to try and bring about a remain position.
I tried to navigate all of this and it was extremely difficult. No question about that. because the majority of party members, probably 70% maybe around that I suspect voted remain. [...] I tried to bring people together and the words I used were: if you live in Tottenham or Mansfield and you're in the private rented sector, along universal credit, you've got a problem which is called a Tory government. Your problem is not caused by the EU, it is caused by the Tory government. And so trying to bring about unity.
And then we reached the compromise we did at the 2019 conference, which went through overwhelmingly almost unanimously. And that was: negotiate a trade deal with the European Union and put the whole thing to a referendum within six months. Almost as soon as we'd agreed that compromise motion, people - particularly on the remain side - said, well, actually, we're going to continue to campaign. And quite a lot on the leave side wanted to continue to campaign to leave.
And so I was left in a position of being, I felt sometimes, like almost the last person defending the party position.
I did challenge the government on this. When Boris Johnson said during the TV debates I will get Brexit done. I said, no, you won't, you will not get Brexit done. You go into years of negotiations with the EU, or you're going to hand over all our social and working conditions to the Americans, what's it going to be? Johnson didn't answer that and the media didn't press him on it. And the result was what it was.
Could we have done things differently, hard to see, but I regret the amount of time and energy that was taken up with endless, almost repetitive debates. I kept notes of every shadow cabinet discussion on Brexit and there's loads and loads of hieroglyphics. I can barely read myself except the same words, keep coming up in them.”