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  1. ITV Report

Labour conference: Lack of Brexit debate is 'democracy at work', says John McDonnell

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Emily Morgan

John McDonnell has said the decision not to have a priority debate on Brexit at the Labour party's conference is "democracy at work".

The shadow chancellor dismissed suggestions the party's leadership was trying to quash debate on the issue, after pro-EU MPs, who are pushing leader Jeremy Corbyn to commit to permanent membership of the single market, failed in an attempt to stage a vote.

Delegates from local parties and unions at the Brighton conference chose eight other subjects as priorities for debate.

The Corbyn-backing Momentum movement urged its supporters not to vote for the Brexit motion.

The decision sparked fury from Europhile MPs on Sunday evening.

But McDonnell insisted there would be "plenty" of debate on the party's stance on EU withdrawal, with delegates on Monday discussing a report from the leadership being presented by shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer.

Asked whether the leadership was trying to dodge scrutiny of its position, the shadow chancellor told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "I wouldn't characterise it that way.

"In our new politics, we are saying conference needs to be controlled by the delegates. They decide what we will debate, not the leadership."

"This is democracy at work," he said, adding that he believed the decision not to prioritise Brexit for debate was motivated by "a feeling that there needs to be a bit more consensus-building, rather than dividing the party at the moment".

Credit: BBC/The Andrew Marr Show

Corbyn is resisting pressure from europhiles in the party, who want him to commit Labour to keeping the UK permanently in the European single market and customs union after Brexit.

In a TV interview as the conference opened in Brighton, he made clear he has deep reservations about the restrictions which single market membership could place on a future Labour government's ability to intervene to support UK industry.

Delegates will debate Brexit on the conference floor on Monday, but there will be no vote.

Former shadow cabinet minister Heidi Alexander was among Labour MPs to condemn the decision, saying: "We will be a laughing stock."

Shadow Treasury minister Jonathan Reynolds said: "It's never good when the party starts talking to itself rather than to the country.

"To not be discussing Brexit it seems, at the least, a strange decision."

Local parties and trade unions chose Grenfell Tower, rail services, growth and investment, public sector pay, workers' rights, the NHS, housing and social care as the eight topics for full debate and votes, with Brexit motions failing to win the necessary backing.

An anti-Brexit demonstration on the seafront during the Labour Party conference in Brighton. Credit: PA

As activists gathered in Brighton for the start of the conference, 30 senior figures wrote an open letter calling for the party to do whatever it takes to keep Britain in the single market and the customs union.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer has previously said that under a Labour government Britain would remain in both for a transitional period of two to four years after the official Brexit date in 2019.