Labour’s Brexit stance in the general election was the “right policy”, the favourite to replace Jeremy Corbyn as the party’s next leader has told Sky News.
Sir Keir Starmer defended the party’s position on Britain’s EU exit, despite Labour suffering its worst performance at the ballot box since the 1930s.
The party lost 59 seats and saw its vote share drop by more than 7% as Boris Johnson returned to Downing Street with a commanding majority of 80.
Labour went into December’s election promising to renegotiate the Brexit deal that Mr Johnson had struck with Brussels if it got into power.
The party said it would then hold a second referendum, with a special conference to be held at a later date to decide whether Labour would back leaving the bloc with that deal or staying.
Sir Keir defended the policy, telling Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I thought it was the right policy.”
But he argued Labour should have declared which side it would have supported in the ensuing referendum it was advocating.
“I thought we should have gone on by the way and said which side we would be campaigning on if there was a referendum,” Sir Keir said.
“I warned our party that if we looked indecisive, we wouldn’t look like we were leading on this issue.”
Sir Keir said Brexit was one of several factors behind Labour’s loss.
“I think we all take responsibility for that devastating election loss,” he said.
“People brought up the leadership of the Labour Party, fairly or unfairly; they brought up Brexit in different ways – what was said in the Midlands was different to what was said here in Scotland; they brought up the fact that they thought the manifesto was overloaded and they didn’t believe we could deliver it all and, in a number of places, they brought up antisemitism.
“So, there were a number of reasons and we need to address all of them.”
In a wide-ranging interview with Sky News, Sir Keir:
- Said Mr Corbyn “should have been stronger” in tackling antisemitism, adding that Labour had “failed” to confront it;
- Declined to say at which level he believes people should start paying the top rate of income tax
- Said Labour’s position on a second Scottish independence referendum “must be aligned” with Scottish Labour’s views
- Hit out at the PM’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings, saying that parliament will “have to have DCQs” (parliamentary questions) for him “before too long”.
- Criticised “sections of the press” for their coverage of Mr Corbyn. “I defend journalists and it is very important that we do but in elements of the press there’s been vilification of Labour leaders that’s gone on for many, many years and Jeremy Corbyn probably got it worse than any leader this time,” he said.
Sir Keir is the frontrunner in the contest to succeed Mr Corbyn, having so far gained the most support among MPs and MEPs, affiliate organisations, trade unions and constituency parties.
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey and Wigan MP Lisa Nandy are the two remaining contenders.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry was eliminated from the race on Friday.
A winner in the contest will be declared at the start of April.
Sir Keir sought to play down his frontrunner status, telling Sky News: “No votes have been cast, it’s really important we are very disciplined and professional in this campaign, we are trying to win every vote and we are absolutely conscious that nobody has actually made their mind up yet.”
He said that if he won, his chief goal would be to unite the party.
“If we can’t unite our party and stop taking lumps out of each other, then we’re not going to win the next general election and so I want to bring our party together,” Sir Keir said.
Asked if he was closer politically to Mr Corbyn or Tony Blair, Sir Keir declared: “I don’t need someone else’s name tattooed on my head to make a decision or hug a historical figure.”