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Jeremy Corbyn defends Brexit position despite First Minister pledging to 'rigorously campaign' to remain in EU

Jeremy Corbyn said that he's sorry if he's upset Mark Drakeford in an internal Labour party row, but he stands by the rule change which caused it. The Labour leader also defended his party's position on Brexit despite the First Minister and the party in Wales saying they'll campaign to keep Britain in the European Union.

And he says he disagrees with the Welsh Health Minister who described the UK party's Brexit stance as 'Utter BS.'

I've been speaking to Jeremy Corbyn ahead of his party's annual conference in Brighton which begins at the weekend, a conference that was already set to be tense given ongoing divisions over Brexit.

Labour party annual conference is taking place in Brighton this weekend. Credit: ITV Wales

But it seemed that he could have been risking losing the backing of one of his earliest and strongest supporters, the First Minister Mark Drakeford.

Corbyn and Drakeford on stage at Welsh Labour conference in April

On Tuesday the Welsh Labour leader wrote to MPs to say he was 'deeply disappointed' by a decision taken on Tuesday by the party's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) not to allow Welsh Labour control over the re-selection of MPs.

The rule change may seem relatively obscure to those outside the party but was seen inside as a deliberate attempt to impose rules on Welsh Labour and 'throwing devolution under a bus' as it was described to me.

Mark Drakeford supported formally devolving the power to Wales as 'a sensible cleaning up of the rules' as did his nominated representative on the NEC, Mick Antoniw. They were overruled.

You can read more about the detail of the quarrel here: https://www.itv.com/news/wales/2019-09-18/welsh-labour-nec-corbyn-drakeford-reselection/

I asked Jeremy Corbyn if he'd overruled Mark Drakeford and if he and his supporters were guilty of clawing back responsibility from the Welsh party leadership.

He insisted that it was simply a matter of having the same rules in place across the UK for the selection of MP candidates.

I asked him if he'd apologise to Mark Drakeford who'd made his disappointment clear in that letter to MPs. Mr Corbyn said, 'I'm sorry if Mark's upset, he's a good friend of mine, we talk frequently and I think he's an incredibly good First Minister of Wales.'

Where they can't paper over any differences is when it comes to Brexit. The UK leader insists he'd remain neutral in any second referendum whereas Mark Drakeford and the Welsh Government as well as the Welsh Labour Party are all committed to campaigning to remain.

In an interview earlier this week, the First Minister said that 'as a government we cannot campaign for something that we believe will do harm to Wales.'

Jeremy has to make a different judgement. My responsibility is to speak up for Wales, I do that whether that’s inside the Labour party or in relations with the UK government. Jeremy has to think about the whole on the UK. It’s a different set of responsibilities it’s for him to make his mind up.

– Mark Drakeford, First Minister

When asked if he sees himself as separate from the UK Labour party he denied such claims.

First Minister said Wales' future is better inside the EU. Credit: PA

No we’re part of the UK labour party but we’re devolved. Offered a choice or staying or leaving the EU we will be clear that Wales future is better protected inside the eu and we will be trying to persuade people labour voters and everybody else in wales to support that proposition.

– Mark Drakeford, First Minister

Today, Jeremy Corbyn told me that he stands by his position that the final decision should be made by voters and that he won't come down on one side or another.

I read to him the tweet from Health Minister Vaughan Gething.

In a tweet Vaughan Gething described the UK Labour manifesto as 'Utter BS.' Credit: ITV Wales

It said 'Brexit: @UKLabour⁩ manifesto to offer vote on Leave & Remain - We can’t ask people to vote to renegotiate then might ask the public to vote that down. We will deserve all the ridicule we get if this is the manifesto. Utter BS.'

In response to the tweet he said "Vaughan says it like it is. I don't particularly agree with it, but that's his choice."

"What I'd want to say is 'Vaughan, we need to bring people together however they voted", he added.

Labour's become used to its divisions being made public, particularly at its conferences.

It looks like Brighton could bring a new dimension to that: division with some of Jeremy Corbyn's most senior Welsh supporters.