Labour should have taken a stronger position on Brexit, says Sir Keir Starmer

Labour leadership favourite and shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer has said his party “should have taken a stronger position one way or the other” on Brexit.

Sir Keir said that people wanted “clarity” on the issue, which the Labour Party did not provide, and that not enough was done by the party to “knock down” the Tories’ Get Brexit Done message.

He added that, if he were to become Labour’s new leader, he would deliver the “fundamental change” needed to deal with inequality across the country.

He said: "The public lost faith and trust in the Labour party as a force for good and a force for change and it's rebuilding that trust I think [that is] is vitally important."

Sir Keir hopes that his leadership chances will not be hampered because he backed another referendum, which some critics have accused of playing a role in Labour’s disastrous election.

Asked why voters can trust him to listen to them after his opposition to Brexit, he said: "We listened to the country in the last three years, there were many many views on Brexit, I went to lots of places that voted either Remain or Leave and of course in most places there was a mixture."

Sir Keir Starmer spoke in Stevenage on Sunday. Credit: PA

During a campaign visit to Brexit-backing Stevenage, he added: “We are leaving the EU in two to three weeks time and that divide between Leave and Remain goes when we leave the EU.

“The next Labour leader needs to unite the Labour Party, provide really effective opposition to Boris Johnson and needs to be pulling together a strategy so that we can win in 2024.

“That’s what the next Labour needs to do, and that is what I’m determined to do on behalf of the Labour party. Not on my own, but as part of a team. We need people alongside me doing this.”

Sir Keir said he was visiting the Hertfordshire town that voted 59% for Leave and has a Conservative MP was because it is “exactly the type of place” where Labour needs to win seats.

Meanwhile, he blamed the Labour defeat on four main reasons which cumulatively caused the party to “lose the public’s trust”.

Speaking on Sky’s Ridge On Sunday, he said: “The issues, there were many of them, but they were the leadership, rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly, was coming up everywhere.

“The Brexit position and whether we were persuading people, more importantly, whether we were knocking down the Tories claim that they would get Brexit done.

The contenders so far. Credit: PA Graphics

“Anti-Semitism came up as a question of values and competence, and there was a general feeling that the manifesto was overloaded.

"They were the four main reasons.”

Sir Keir also outlined what a future Labour government led by him would look like, calling for more long term investment for businesses and the government and private sector to set green targets and requirements together.

He added: “I would like to see private schools as an irrelevant because the state sector was so good, and we’ve underfunded the state sector.”

But Labour shouldn’t throw away all of the ideas followed by Jeremy Corbyn, he said.

“What Jeremy Corbyn brought to the Labour Party in 2015 was the start of saying we should be anti-austerity and pro public services. That is right. We don’t want to throw that away.

“I’m not pretending we need to keep everything as it is, I’m not pretending there was anything good about that general election result, it was devastating, but we shouldn’t retreat from the radical… fundamental change is needed in this country and we must deliver it,” he said.

Discussing the problems with Labour’s Brexit position, Sir Keir added: “I think clarity about what your position is and not being able to say well would you be leave or remain after a general election was a problem and I made that argument but I accepted the decision.

“I think people wanted clarity and they wanted leadership.

“People had bought the idea that if you vote Tory you’ll get Brexit done and we didn’t knock it down hard enough.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Get Brexit Done message resonated with voters, Sir Keir Starmer suggested. Credit: PA

He also said the argument for a second referendum “blew away” with the election result and that the conversation must “move on” to the framework for future trade relations.

“We’re going to leave the EU in the next few weeks.”