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What would various literary and historical figures have made of Brexit?


When Douglas Hurd writes about British Foreign Secretaries since 1815 (‘Choose Your Weapons’, published 2013), a recurring theme is that Britain has never had a ‘comfortable’ relationship with continental Europe. 

In historic terms, England’s first split from a continental European organisation where England had played an active part was when Enery the Eighth fell for Ann Boleyn’s charms and defied the Pope. That UK vs Europe struggle continued roughly from the 1530s till Guy Fawkes’s catholic plot proved unpopular some seventy years later when Protestantism had won over a majority of hearts and minds. Neither Harold Wilson’s referendum in 1975 nor David Cameron’s in 2016 ‘lanced a boil’. 

The LME’s battle in the coming years is surely to win over hearts and minds at a fundamental philosophical level. As is well known, today’s young people are, if the various opinion polls are accurate, highly likely to want to rejoin the EU when they hold the levers of power.   

What about the Labour Party? It is well rehearsed that most Labour voters, and over 95% of MPs are, and were in 2016, Remainers. Clearly being seen as unwilling to implement the ‘will of the people’, especially after the huge Johnson victory, is not going to be popular with many in the UK. 

Whatever the Brexiteers claimed during the Election – Labour always did acknowledge the referendum result. Labour voted to implement Article 50 (we simply wanted a second referendum to agree on exactly what was meant by the first Brexit referendum).  Even the doziest Brexiteer would have noticed that the Civil Service, the media and certainly our Labour Party have done little else over the last three years than respond to the people’s will in the June 2016 referendum.

Respecting the result of the Election is not incompatible, though, with the LME, and others, winning more hearts and minds to the cause of Britain at the heart of Europe. This is particularly true for today’s young people who will still be alive and active, and holding the levers of power, if and when the UK next decides to ask the people on its troubled relations with continental Europe.

Brexit done, UK undone

Can the literary classics help Labour Europhiles find the right path in the coming years? Clearly, the battle to put Britain at the heart of Europe is now a marathon rather than a sprint. The debate in the next few years will no doubt be about the large philosophical questions, rather than budget contributions and straight cucumbers. In winning over more hearts and minds to the cause, a long historical perspective is needed.

Going back in history, what would Britain’s great writers make of Brexit? The poet and cleric John Donne (1572-1631) famously wrote “No man is an island entire of itself”.  The verse continues:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 

own were; any man's death diminishes me, 

because I am involved in mankind. 

And therefore never send to know for whom 

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. “


Donne was of course famous for his wit. He fell from grace when he famously married Anne (Donne), who was too young to consent in her (rich and well-connected) father’s view, so poor Donne ended up in prison as a result of the marriage. In his pithy words, it was: “John Donne, Anne Donne, Undone”.  Perhaps if alive today he would work out a wittier version of something like  “Johnson won,  Got Brexit done…. So UK undone” ?

England hath made a shameful conquest of itself

Shakespeare succinctly describes the ‘shooting yourself in the foot’ that is Brexit when John of ‘Gaunt’ (i.e. Ghent in Belgium) famously muses on the mess caused by that ‘inept Tory’ equivalent of the late 1300s (Richard II). The nationalistic lines are often quoted: “This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle, …. This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England” with the later lines “That England, that was wont to conquer others, Hath made a shameful conquest of itself” been known to get a (somewhat inappropriate) laugh in post-June 2016 productions.

Campaigning in poetry, governing in prose

Coming to the last century, could George Orwell have possibly been anything other than an ardent Remainer? He is the inventor of the parody of petty nationalism in the ‘Two Minutes Hate’ in 1984. He so deeply saw the Spanish struggle as his own struggle that he went to fight there (and got shot) in the International Brigade in their Civil War. He was also Arts Editor of Tribune, ridiculing the absurdity of misplaced British patriotism in his essays in the forties, 

And what of the great Dickens himself? Though very much an English author, like Orwell, he upped sticks (not so easy in the nineteenth century with a family in tow) and lived in continental Europe. They lived in Italy (where he learnt Italian) and in Switzerland, and he sent his sons to school in France, where he regularly travelled himself for long periods. 

One of Dickens’s many biographers, his great-great-great-granddaughter, is in no doubt Dickens would have been a Remainer. To continue to the present day, no surprises that JK Rowling herself has made it absolutely clear that Harry Potter would definitely have voted Remain, as he believed in a “free and fair democracy”.


By Councillor Dave Poyser - London Tour guide who leads guided walks on Orwell and Dickens 

Brexit done, UK undone

What would various literary and historical figures have made of Brexit?

We asked all of the Labour leader and deputy leader candidates five questions to help us decide who we nominate.

Richard Burgon and Rebbeca Long-Bailey are the only candidates to have not responded. We sent the questions to the candidates on the evening of the 14th of January and asked that they respond to us by the end of the working day on the 22nd of January.


Questions we asked the candidates:

1. What Labour values do you think have been best represented by our membership of the EU?

2. Will you campaign for the UK to stay in the single market and the EU's custom's union and to keep freedom of movement post Brexit?

3. If we crash out without a deal at the end of the transition period what steps will you take to rebuild our relationship with the EU?

4. We lost this ‘Brexit election’ heavily. What did we get wrong on the Brexit strategy?

5. How would you win the arguments in the future about a strong relationship with the EU with voters and particularly those in areas that voted most strongly to Leave?

Leader candidates' responses


Rebecca Long-Bailey

She has not provided us with a response to our questions.


Keir Starmer

1. What Labour values do you think have been best represented by our membership of the EU?

"Solidarity. The last 40 years have seen an unprecedented wave of globalisation, so that what happens in one economy has an unavoidable impact on others. The social protections and high standards of the EU have ensured that—in Europe—this hasn’t resulted in a race to the bottom on workplace rights or environmental protections. This has benefited millions of workers and consumers and it’s why much of the trade union and labour movement campaigned for Remain. Solidarity in trade negotiations has also allowed the UK to strike deals as part of a market of over 500 million consumers and to ensure common standards and protections across borders. I believe it’s vital that as we leave the EU, Labour makes the case for continuing high standards and no weakening of rights and protections."

2. Will you campaign for the UK to stay in the single market and the EU's customs union and to keep freedom of movement post Brexit?

"As Shadow Brexit Secretary, I have repeatedly made the case for a close future relationship with the EU. During the cross-party talks with the Government and in our manifesto we argued for a comprehensive customs union and single market alignment, because it was clear that this would be the best way to protect jobs, rights and living standards. 

As we leave the EU Labour needs to emphasise the importance of retaining a close economic relationship with the EU and collaboration in other areas. My concern is that Johnson will now look to move away from common standards and arrangements and look to America for a trade deal instead. This would of course have huge ramifications for our economy, rights and our NHS.

I believe freedom of movement has brought huge benefits to our economy and society. The problems of low pay, poor housing and insecure work are not caused by migrants – but by a failed economic model and unscrupulous employers."

3. If we crash out without a deal at the end of the transition period what steps will you take to rebuild our relationship with the EU?

"I have worked with colleagues over the last three years to prevent a no deal Brexit, including working with our trade union and labour movement and mobilising cross-party support in Parliament. I did so because I know that no deal would be catastrophic for our jobs, living standards, rights and for peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. Those dangers haven’t gone away, and are increased by the reckless and irresponsible way that Johnson has set about negotiations. We now need to keep up pressure in Parliament to prevent a no deal Brexit, and I can assure you that if elected Leader I will do so. 

Repairing and rebuilding our relationship with our European partners must be a priority for Labour no matter what happens at the end of the transition period. If I am elected leader Labour we will remain a member of the Party of the European Socialists and we will continue to work with our sister parties to secure social, economic and climate justice. We will also continue to argue for a close, cooperative relationship with our EU partners going forward."

4. We lost this ‘Brexit election’ heavily. What did we get wrong on the Brexit strategy?

"Brexit was undeniably an important issue at this election, and I wish that we had done more to take on the central message of the Tory campaign that Boris Johnson would “get Brexit done.” I also argued for a clearer and more consistent policy approach, which I think would have help communicate with voters. 

But this was not a single issue campaign – and wherever I went in the country a number of issues were raised on the doorstep, including (fairly or unfairly) leadership, anti-Semitism and an overloaded manifesto. This is also Labour’s fourth consecutive election defeat, so we need to look much more deeply at the causes of this and how we rebuild trust around a radical agenda for the 2020s and 2030s."

5. How would you win the arguments in the future about a strong relationship with the EU with voters and particularly those in areas that voted most strongly to Leave?

"We have to rebuild trust with communities across the country, including those that voted heavily to Leave. That will not be easy and it will take time and a united Labour movement. But we need to stay true to our values and to put forward a radical agenda that can reconnect with voters and regain trust that Labour is a force for change."


Lisa Nandy

1. What Labour values do you think have been best represented by our membership of the EU?

"The principles of peace, solidarity, internationalism and cooperation were at the core of the European project from its inception. 

The Labour movement is built on the experience that we achieve more together than we do alone. That won’t change and this must be the basis for a close relationship and co-operation between a future Labour government and the European Union. I see little economic or moral value in the Tories courting trade deals with countries which operate against the interests of our people and our planet. Frictionless trade with our neighbours matters most, alongside working with like-minded countries throughout the world to advance our shared values and ambitions.

In practical terms our membership of the European Union has meant more jobs, rights and freedoms than we would otherwise have had. Crucially it has the strength and ability to challenge multinational corporations which is needed now more than even. However, if we are brutally honest the progress of a social Europe agenda had slowed in the years leading to Brexit. While the adoption of the Social Chapter remains an unsung achievement of Tony Blair’s Labour government, at times it was the same government holding back the efforts of MEPs to tackle issues such as rights for temporary and agency workers. For many years Labour MEPs have been working tirelessly to make a real difference for constituents back home and putting our values into public service and we all owe them an immense debt of gratitude.

The next Labour leader and Prime Minister must work even harder to ensure our principles and our pragmatism are reflected in our close relationship with the European Union and other countries around the world. I have argued that environment must be at the heart of trade deals along with great democratic accountability and argued against a trade deal with Trump’s USA if he breaks with the Paris Agreement, although there are many other concerns beyond that.

Following Brexit, Labour has to defend the interests of working people, hold the Conservatives to account for broken promises and stand up to those who cynically try and divide us. Most people in Britain are fair, decent and respectful of each other. However, we have seen deplorable tactics from Conservative politicians aiming to turn people against each other and erode trust in our communities.

Theresa May shamefully said in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference in 2016, “If you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” Boris Johnson and his associates have gone further and engaged with calculated attacks with real-world consequences intending to start a ‘culture war’ he feels he can win. Labour cannot play that game and under my leadership I will seek to bring people together, heal some of the division of recent years and ensuring Labour gets a hearing with the lost voters we need to win back." 

2. Will you campaign for the UK to stay in the single market and the EU's custom's union and to keep freedom of movement post Brexit?

"I have consistently argued for a close relationship with the European Union post-Brexit and not least because of the needs of working people. I know how important manufacturing industries such as Heinz is to my constituents and the importance of frictionless trade with our neighbours. I support entering into a strong relationship with the European Customs Union on the basis that is it important for many UK industries and I will be able to make a persuasive and pragmatic case for access to the Single Market too at the next general election.

I have consistently defended the principle of freedom of movement of labour however I believe we need to do much more to address some the behaviour of cynical employers abusing it. There have been too many examples of employers behaving in a way which exploits workers or increase divisions which everyone loses out from. The UK should embrace the reformed Posted Workers’ Directive which has been supported by UK Labour MEPs, ban the overseas-only advertising of jobs, enable trade unions to have new freedoms to access and organise in workplaces as well as do much more to help bring different communities together."  

3. If we crash out without a deal at the end of the transition period what steps will you take to rebuild our relationship with the EU?

"Crashing out with a WTO Brexit would be devastating for UK industries, harm all our living standards and erode our country’s standing and security. If elected as Labour leader I will work closely with employer and trade unions, public bodies and highlight the dangers of a WTO Brexit and the astronomical costs of no deal preparations which could be put to much better use."

4. We lost this ‘Brexit election’ heavily. What did we get wrong on the Brexit strategy?

"I campaigned hard to remain in the European Union in the run up to the 2016 referendum visiting many places in former heavy industrialised regions which subsequently voted to leave. During the campaign I realised that something was going wrong and that this referendum was about many deep-seated issues. These included issues of power, accountability, control and trust. I felt the similarities with the experiences of friends in Scotland who encountered something similar in the Scottish independence referendum two years before.

After the result I knew from listening to my own constituents that the referendum result simply had to be respected, as painful as it was and nor were they alone. Otherwise the drop in trust would only be exacerbated and may not be recovered and that the forces of the right would stir up division and exploit it.

I therefore consistently argued for the closest possible relationship with the European Union throughout the Brexit process, but did not support another referendum. Whatever the argument for a ‘People’s Vote’, I knew the signal that went to many people who voted to leave and who had voted Labour in the past was that we weren’t respecting the first referendum. This would put an even bigger gulf between our party and voters we have lost since 2010.

I respect the sincerity and the values of those who have fought to stay in the European Union, but I believe our party’s Brexit approach contributed to the defeat in 2019, not least among many constituencies which had historically given us their support. By no means was Brexit the only factor in this election, but it played a significant part.

The challenge for Labour now is to urgently set on the task to rebuild and expand our coalition of support. Crucially I believe I am best placed to get a hearing with the voters who believe Labour has deserted them and win back their trust for future elections.

Labour’s road to recovery mean rebuilding the trust and support in seats such as Blyth Valley, Bassetlaw, Bury North, Birmingham Northfield, Leigh, Keighley, Colne Valley, Redcar, Workington, Bolsover, Rother Valley, Copeland, Ashfield, Stoke Central and Stoke North among so many more. Whether through my approach to Brexit or insight from the Centre for Towns which I helped establish, I believe I can be the leader to help our party win back the confidence and votes of these seats. That is only part of the task to bring our country together and win permission for a Labour government in the future. As a former councillor who represented people in Hammersmith in London and as the current MP for Wigan, I am confident we can rebuild that broad electoral coalition if elected as Labour’s leader."

5. How would you win the arguments in the future about a strong relationship with the EU with voters and particularly those in areas that voted most strongly to Leave?

"As someone who respected the result of the referendum I am uniquely placed in this contest to make a pragmatic and persuasive case in areas which voted leave for a close relationship with our neighbours and the European Union in our national interest. The challenges facing the UK now and in the future will require new alliances and throughout the world, whether it is on climate change, economic and social justice, defeating rising nationalism and challenging global corporations.

However, what is vital is that the many causes of many of the reasons behind the voted to leave the European Union in 2016 are understood and addressed by our ambitions and priorities. We need to show humility and understanding and then be bold in our response.

Ours has always been a movement that faces north, south, east and west. But at this critical moment in our nation’s history, Labour is in retreat. Defeated and divided in Scotland. Beaten back in North Wales and large parts of the northern, southern and Midlands towns. And in the fight of our lives in many parts of the major cities.

The stark reality is the path back to power runs not just along our former ‘red wall’ but across a ‘red bridge’ that connects our towns and cities and stretches from Dagenham to Fulham, Aberdeen to Glasgow, and Cardiff to Wrexham.

Brexit was one of the biggest tests Labour’s diverse coalition has ever faced and we completely failed to offer the leadership the country needed. We let the Tories determine how we would become divided and we put our activists and councillors in an impossible position in both Leave and Remain areas. The choice: to be for Labour, or to be for your community. You could not be both. I promise you that under my leadership this will never, ever happen again.

The question of whether we leave is now over; the argument we now have to win in the country is how we preserve a close trading relationship and secure as many rights, standards and protections which we enjoyed as members of the EU as we can. Industrial strategy will be a key battle ground in the years ahead and I will fight for our UK industries and jobs as they are put under threat by the reckless approach of the Conservatives.

Our position on a strong future relationship with our closest trading partners will be guided by common sense, national interest and articulated through strong leadership. To achieve anything at all, we must rebuild trust with voters who left us. I ask for your support in this difficult but vital journey ahead."


Emily Thornberry

1. What Labour values do you think have been best represented by our membership of the EU? 

"I would highlight three things, amongst many potential others. 

First, our dedication to preserving peace and ending conflict, which has fired the Labour movement ever since the First World War, and which has benefited enormously from our ability to stand aside our European colleagues in those efforts, and use our collective soft power to prevent the escalation of tension. 

Second, our belief in internationalism: that we are always stronger when acting together than acting alone, and that when injustice happens to anyone, it happens to us all. That is fundamental to the EU mission, whether in respect of funding for deprived regions across our continent, or our joint action on Climate Change and other environmental protections. 

Finally, we are nothing if we are not the party of jobs and workers’ rights, and our membership of the EU has been immensely beneficial for both, in terms of driving up working conditions, supporting jobs and business via the Single Market and Customs Union, and enabling us to negotiate favourable trade deals overseas to increase our exports." 

2. Will you campaign for the UK to stay in the single market and the EU’s customs union and to keep freedom of movement post Brexit? 

"From Day One after the referendum, I was clear that any Brexit deal that was struck needing to include continued full access to the Single Market and a new Customs Union. 

And while none of us can dispute that immigration played a crucial role in the Brexit debate, if the EU response to our proposed deal also included agreeing to continued freedom of movement, then we would have needed an honest debate with the public: do we want this deal to protect our jobs and public services, or do want to cut ourselves off entirely, and then given them the final say? And I know which side I would have campaigned on. 

Once Brexit is done, which – with the majority we’ve handed Boris Johnson – it will be, the question does fundamentally change, and we need to be honest about that. We can argue over losing Single Market access, exiting the Customs Union, and curbs on Freedom of Movement, but we can’t stop the Tories pushing those policies through. 

And when that happens, the question switches from: what happens when we leave and on what terms do we leave, to what happens if we try to return, and on what terms would we do so. I’ll be making a major speech about that during my campaign, because I think it is vital for all of us who wanted to Remain to adjust to that new debate."

3. If we crash out without a deal at the end of the transition period what steps will you take to rebuild our relationship with the EU? 

"That would be an absolute catastrophe for our country, and it wouldn’t be welcome for the rest of the EU either, especially for Ireland. So, first things first, we need to fight tooth and claw to stop that happening – and whether Big Ben bongs or not on the 31st of January – we need to be ready for an almighty fight ahead, because I don’t think Boris Johnson has any idea how he’s going to negotiate a deal by the end of 2020, and I worry he doesn’t care. 

And one of the key reasons I’m standing for the leadership – having shadowed Johnson for the entire two years he was Foreign Secretary – is that I know how to expose his weaknesses and his failures, I know how to fight him, and there is no area where we’re going to need that more than if he spends 2020 sleepwalking our country off a cliff. 

But if that does happen, as I’ve already said, the debate needs to change, and the first thing I’d do as leader is get on the Eurostar to Brussels, sit down with Ursula, Charles and David, and then go and see my counterparts around Europe, and say to all of them: this is what I think it will take us to fix this, you tell me what you think, and then let’s work out a plan." 

4. We lost this ‘Brexit election’ heavily. What did we get wrong on the Brexit strategy? 

"Well first of all, we should never have allowed there to be a ‘Brexit election’. If your opponent is trying to force a single-issue election, then you don’t walk into that trap, and unlike the Tories’ Khaki election in 1900 about the Boer War, we actually had a choice this time, we had a vote in Parliament where we could have blocked it. 

I was the only member of the Shadow Cabinet standing in the leadership contest who spoke up against it and said we had to fight for a second referendum on Johnson’s deal instead, then press for a general election . 

But I also wrote to Jeremy and his team privately urging them not to go down this route, because I could see how disastrous it would be. And I also told them this: if we do allow a single-issue, Brexit election, then for goodness’ sake, we need to take a clear, unequivocal position on that issue – we can’t stay sitting on the fence. 

They didn’t listen, and as a result, we lost all those seats in Leave areas that we were always going to lose in a ‘Brexit election’ no matter what position we took, because as John Curtice has rightly said, we could never out-do Johnson or Farage on Brexit. 

But our continued equivocation meant we also didn’t gain seats where we would easily have won if we’d taken a clear position in favour of a People’s Vote and in favour of Remain. That cost us all but one of our seats in Scotland, it meant we picked up barely any elsewhere, and it handed Boris Johnson an 80-seat majority. It was a calamitous mistake." 

5. How would you win the arguments in the future about a strong relationship with the EU with voters and particularly those in areas that voted most strongly to Leave? 

"Firstly, we need to be clear that many people in Leave areas voted that way for reasons that essentially had nothing to do with Europe. Especially for people in towns, smaller cities, and suburbs that see nothing but declining incomes, unaffordable housing, hollowed-out high streets, and children leaving for the big cities because there are no opportunities for them at home, it was a way of displaying their anger and hitting back at the establishment. 

And to win those voters back, it will be about having policies relevant to their needs, which will in all likelihood – again – have nothing to do with Europe. So let’s be honest about that. 

But more widely, in terms of making the case for a strong relationship with the EU, to quote Joni Mitchell, sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, and – given the majority we’ve handed Boris Johnson – we’re all going to find out, one way or another, and I think the British people will see he has landed us in a disastrous place. 

And when that happens, I want a leader on the other side of the despatch box, who was on the right side of the argument all along, who made that argument vociferously both in public and in private, and who can hold Johnson to account for the consequences of his actions."


Deputy leader candidates' responses


Richard Burgon

He has not provided us with a response to our questions.


Ian Murray

1. What Labour values do you think have been best represented by our membership of the EU?

"EU membership goes to the very heart of what we believe in as a party - solidarity and working together. 

The Labour Party is an internationalist party, and the majority of our members oppose leaving the European Union. 

Leaving the EU on January 31 won’t change what our members believe. 

We need to stay true to our values and demonstrate leadership to people across the country.

On the major issues of our time – climate change, terrorism, technology and the future of work – we’re only going to succeed by working together.

That’s why Labour should always be a pro-UK and a pro-Europe party."


2. Will you campaign for the UK to stay in the single market and the EU's customs union and to keep freedom of movement post Brexit?

"Yes. I was the co-founder of Scottish Labour for the Single Market and a co-chair of the Labour Campaign for the Single Market. 

I am proud to have voted against triggering Article 50, helping to form the People’s Vote campaign, and leading the successful court challenge against Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament.

There is no such thing as a good Brexit deal, but in recent years we didn’t argue that forcefully enough.

I repeatedly said the least worst option after-Brexit would be for the UK to remain in both the single market and the customs union to project jobs and workers’ rights - and to maintain freedom of movement. 

Freedom of movement has transformed our economy for the better and it is devastating that opportunities for young people both here and across Europe are now being taken away by the Tories.

I will continue to campaign for these Labour values, but the sad reality is that our crushing election defeat means we are up against a powerful Tory government that can do what it wants."

3. If we crash out without a deal at the end of the transition period what steps will you take to rebuild our relationship with the EU?

"If I am elected deputy leader, I will launch a Labour Campaign for Britain’s Future.

This will initially focus on rebuilding bridges and restoring Britain’s global reputation after the damage of Brexit, as well as exploring how to reform the UK and bring communities together amid the threat of divisive nationalism.

We need the closest possible relationship with the EU and other European nations to enhance Britain’s place in the world and to ensure that jobs and livelihoods are protected, security is enhanced, and we grow our economy. 

We should never rule out campaigning to be part of the EU again in the future if it is in the national interest." 


4. We lost this ‘Brexit election’ heavily. What did we get wrong on the Brexit strategy?

"We faced both ways on the biggest constitutional issue facing the country.

When you stand in the middle of the road, you get hit by cars on both sides.

We strayed from our values in the hope that constitutional divisions would be forgotten.

As a Scottish MP who has seen what happens when constitutional issues consume our political debate, I knew this was the wrong strategy. 

Voters didn’t believe our late conversion to a confirmatory referendum on EU membership because we had spent so many years prevaricating.

Never again can we abandon our values, and never again can we face two ways on the biggest issues of our time."


5. How would you win the arguments in the future about a strong relationship with the EU with voters and particularly those in areas that voted most strongly to Leave?

"We are leaving the EU at the end of this month, but that won’t be the end of the debate. It may just be the start.

Our looming departure from the EU fills me with dread.

The blame for every job lost, every industry ruined, and every community that suffers will be now be firmly at Boris Johnson’s door. We must never stop reminding him of that.

Our catastrophic election defeat means Labour remains in opposition, but our duty to stand up for people across the UK doesn’t stop. 

My campaign will aim to enhance Britain’s place in the world and ensure that jobs and livelihoods are protected, and the UK’s economy can grow. 

It will focus on fighting for workers in every UK community, Leave or Remain, so that Britain remains competitive on the world stage.

Restoring the UK’s reputation is a vital step in winning back communities which voted Leave, but we must also prove that a close relationship with our European neighbours is best for Britain’s future."


Rosena Allin-Khan

1. What Labour values do you think have been best represented by our membership of the EU?

"Our membership of the EU represented some of the best of our Labour values, in particular our values of openness and internationalism. This is why I fought hard for us to Remain, voting against triggering Article 50 and all Withdrawal Agreements put forward. I am proud to have been the first Labour front-bencher who publicly backed calls for a People’s Vote and I am glad to have pushed the Labour Party’s position on Brexit. I also campaigned against Brexit locally in my constituency of Tooting, obtaining the signatures of 10,000 local residents who were against withdrawing from the EU, and regularly canvassing their opinion ahead of votes.

The Labour Party is an internationalist party which advocates social justice and co-operation across borders and these principles have existed since the Party’s formation. I am firm believer that we do not simply advocate for improved workers’ rights here in the UK, we fight for rights globally. We have worked with sister parties across Europe and beyond ensuring that the protection of human rights, international cooperation and democracy stays high on the international agenda. We achieve more together than we ever could on our own and the UK’s membership of the EU epitomised this value.

Our membership of the EU allowed us to further our internationalist goals, to work with and support the other nations of Europe. Whether it was the EU Parliament coming together to declare a climate emergency last November and drafting European-wide legislation for a Green Deal, or member states working together to solve the refugee crisis, I believe we are stronger when we come together."

2. Will you campaign for the UK to stay in the single market and the EU's custom's union and to keep freedom of movement post Brexit?

"I campaigned to Remain because I passionately believed staying in the EU represented the best future for my constituents, the country and the internationalist values of the Labour Party. We need to make sure we hold this right-wing Government to account. Boris Johnson will soon begin trying to negotiate quick-and-dirty trade deals with Donald Trump and others around the world, but our cherished workers’ rights, our NHS and environmental standards must not be up for sale. I will work to ensure that our Party is at the heart of the continuing fight against a far-right Brexit and the threat to our public services, our environment and our NHS.

I also passionately continue to support Freedom of Movement. I represent a diverse constituency, including many EU nationals,who are the beating heart of my local hospital, which is Tooting's biggest employer. Thanks to Freedom of Movement, many European citizens have come to our country and made their homes here, contributing to our culture and economy and creating a more tolerant and open Britain. Many Brits have also settled across Europe. It is a travesty that future generations will not have the opportunities to live, work and learn abroad.

Many of my colleagues in the NHS are from the EU, and we must make sure they are welcome to stay. They are our family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. Many people I speak to are currently worried about their status and whether they’ll be able to stay. Ensuring their status must be a priority."

3. If we crash out without a deal at the end of the transition period what steps will you take to rebuild our relationship with the EU?

"The possibility of crashing out of the EU without a deal is still a very real and dangerous prospect. As Deputy Leader, I would ensure that the Labour Party is prepared, and ready to fight against such a scenario. In order to do so, the first thing we need to ensure is that the Labour Party is an effective opposition to the Government.

To be an effective opposition party, we must learn from past mistakes and be united from top to bottom. I’ve got the campaigning experience, and also the life experience, to help rebuild the party again. We need to move beyond the last few years where nasty internal debates about faction and ideological purity have too often alienated people outside our movement. I am the only Deputy Leader candidate who has not nominated a Leader - I will work with whoever is elected to unify the party against Boris Johnson’s right-wing Government.

As a united opposition, we will be able to scrutinise each piece of Brexit legislation and work together to hold this Government to account on Brexit. To rebuild our relationship with the EU, it is paramount that we return to government as soon as possible. As a party of government, we will have the influence and the conviction to reach out to the EU and begin rebuilding our relationship."

4. We lost this ‘Brexit election’ heavily. What did we get wrong on the Brexit strategy?

"The time it took us to reach our Brexit position was a major issue. It made us look indecisive, and weak. Due to our indecisiveness, we failed to appeal to anyone. People were confused by our messaging - people who voted remain did not trust us, and people who voted leave did not think we were credibly leave. It took us as a party far too long to effectively communicate our Brexit message and by then the damage had already been done. This is in stark contrast to the Conservatives’ messaging, which only took three little words.

I have always been clear that I could never support Brexit in any form due to the impact it would have on workers’ rights, environmental protections and the threat it poses to our cherished NHS. We failed to engage voters across the country. We should have tailored our message to specific regions and nations of the UK and made clear how damaging Brexit could be.

Many voters in leave areas have been feeling disenfranchised and left behind by the Labour Party since before the referendum. We should have spent more time reaching out and listening with humility to these people. If we spent more time listening, we could have presented a more impactful message of hope and unity, long before sentiments of division spread."

5. How would you win the arguments in the future about a strong relationship with the EU with voters and particularly those in areas that voted most strongly to Leave?

"Despite campaigning to Remain, I accept the debate has now moved on now, following the General Election result. It’s now no longer an argument for remain or leave; it’s about the values we in the Labour Party represent.

We have to listen to our voters and that involves rolling up our sleeves and putting in some hard graft. Traditional Labour communities have sent us a message - they did not trust us to listen to them and this was partially because of our indecisiveness on Brexit.

We must start this next chapter fighting to protect workers’ rights, environmental standards and our NHS. We must scrutinise every piece of legislation that the Government puts forward. Voters in leave areas may have voted to leave the EU, however they did not vote to be worse off and to be stripped of their rights. We must ensure we engage with leave voting areas and take their concerns seriously, whilst making the case that we should stay aligned with the EU to protect jobs, stop the selling of our NHS and tackle the climate crisis facing our planet. I will always make the case for an internationalist, open and inclusive Labour Party."


Angela Rayner

1. What Labour values do you think have been best represented by our membership of the EU? 

"Our shared values of internationalism, solidarity and cooperation have benefited from our close relationship with other European countries. As a trade unionist, I fought with colleagues in Unison for EU action on issues like employment standards, as other campaigns have achieved better environmental protections and consumer rights. Many of the issues our country faces can only be tackled by working across borders, whether that is with trade unions and workers across the EU to ensure companies cannot undercut workers’ pay, their terms and conditions or through other policy measures, for example in building environmental standards to genuinely tackle the climate emergency."

2. Will you campaign for the UK to stay in the single market and the EU's customs union and to keep freedom of movement post Brexit?

"One of the biggest challenges facing us over the coming months and years will be how we establish our place in the world post-Brexit.

We will need to hold the Tories to account when they inevitably fall short of their promises, and demand the best deal possible for every man, woman and child in Britain. We as a Party will need to offer a positive alternative vision of what our role is in the world."

It will be among the biggest policy challenges we face. But it is one on which I believe our party can both unite around and win over the vast majority of the British people.

Because Boris Johnson won’t deliver what they voted for. It’s not just the missing magic money tree that would supposedly fund the NHS. His vision is a Britain that competes with lower wages for workers, bigger handouts for big business, and worse standards for everyone. 

Labour can offer a better alternative for Britain in a post-Brexit world. Where we own our infrastructure, protect our workers, set the highest standards and thrive by making and exporting the technology that can save our planet.

Those are principles that I believe would lead to a close future partnership with the EU. But the sad truth is that with a Tory majority, this government will be negotiating our exit, and bluntly we can only imagine the scale of the disaster they will have inflicted. That is why my focus as Deputy Leader will be to get us back to power, and if you nominate me that will be my mission every day for the next five years."

3. If we crash out without a deal at the end of the transition period what steps will you take to rebuild our relationship with the EU?

"If the Tories use their majority to force through a no deal, cliff-edge Brexit, we need to hold them to account and do everything we can do stop the damage it would do to the communities and people we represent; the impact of crashing out at the beginning of 2021 would be huge. 

From Opposition, however, we can also offer a different vision of our place in the world. We can reach out to the labour movement and other political parties across Europe, to forge advances through mutual action and discussion. This is a role that I would take on as Deputy Leader, extending the hand of friendship from our Party in opposition, to our international allies in opposition or power."

4. We lost this ‘Brexit election’ heavily. What did we get wrong on the Brexit strategy?

"I campaigned for Remain in the referendum, but the fact is we lost. Too often, when we discussed Europe, as with our wider messaging in the General Election campaign, we appealed to people's heads and not their hearts. Often we talked more about the potential negative effects of leaving than the positive benefits of remaining. 

Part of the problem was that we sounded like statisticians rather than storytellers; yet we know stories beat statistics in persuading people. It’s why I want us to argue for our policies as practical solutions to the problems people face in everyday life. 

It is clear that, though well-intentioned, our Brexit policy fell flat in this election. But at the next election the question will no longer be Leave or Remain but what is our future place the world; I believe we can answer that question in a way that both unites our Party and wins the country." 

5. How would you win the arguments in the future about a strong relationship with the EU with voters and particularly those in areas that voted most strongly to Leave?  

"What was clear to me from the thousands of doors I knocked on during the General Election is that even among those many people I met who wanted to leave the EU, there was no hostility towards the European Union and other European countries. 

Most people want to see a successful post-Brexit trade strategy and shared action on the challenges that all countries face together. In the future, we must focus on positive campaigning; delivering our message clearly about the benefits of a close relationship; close trade arrangements are going to be vital to our industries and any no-deal Brexit fallout in 2021 would be disastrous for communities up and down the UK. I will be doing everything I can as a strong voice in opposition to prevent us falling off such a ‘cliff edge’."


Dawn Butler

1. What Labour values do you think have been best represented by our membership of the EU? 

"I was a Member of the Council of Europe as the UK representative for women and equalities and in this role I saw first-hand the work that the EU does to promote equality, diversity and human rights across members and the world, values which we hold dear in our country. The Labour Party also has a proud tradition of internationalism which is represented by our membership of the EU and we must ensure that we maintain our outward focus. I see the European Union as a beacon for peace on the continent, created after years of war and conflict. And one of the EU’s key tenets which I value greatly is freedom of movement which allows us the basic rights to live, work and study across the continent. 

The political institutions of the EU have also been fundamental in protecting both workers’ rights and environmental protection across Europe, which are so important to us in the labour movement. Indeed many of our rights across these areas in the UK originate from EU legislation. And the EU through its institutions protect our democracy and the rule of law. We must continue to stand up for all these values outside of the EU and fight any attempted degradation of our rights and freedoms by this Tory Government."

2. Will you campaign for the UK to stay in the single market and the EU's custom's union and to keep freedom of movement post Brexit? 

"Following our devastating election result I recognise that we are leaving the European Union. However I am clear that we must continue to have a close relationship with our European neighbours and partners which, other than being the right thing to do, is also is in our national interest. I believe that we need a customs union with the European Union and as close a relationship with the single market as possible. This will minimise disruption and problems as much as possible for our economy post-Brexit and ensure we have a close economic partnership with the EU moving forward which will be good for both parties. 

I have always been a passionate defender of the free movement of people and believe this is of great benefit to people both in the UK and the EU. I think it’s great that people have the opportunity to work, travel and study abroad and the UK also benefits greatly from the free movement of EU citizens who contribute so much to our lives, communities and economy. I believe we must work to protect these rights post-Brexit and that is what I will stand up for as Deputy Leader. s that voted most strongly to Leave?"

3. If we crash out without a deal at the end of the transition period what steps will you take to rebuild our relationship with the EU? 

"First of all we must do all we can to prevent a disastrous no-deal exit which we all know would be catastrophic for jobs and our economy. I will do all I can to work with colleagues in Parliament to prevent this. But if this does happen against our will, we must make clear that this is against the wishes of most of this country – including a lot of people who voted for Brexit. And we must make clear in discussions with the EU that the Opposition will work with all interested parties to find a solution that ensure we reach a good deal as quickly as possible. And I always say that No Deal is not a long term solution because inevitably a deal or some sort of cooperation needs to be done, on fishing rights to trade, for both sides to be able to function properly. This needs to be made clear. Our job now is to do all we can to scrutinise this Government and ensure that we leave with the best possible deal that protects our rights, standards and economy. 

More widely, I will continue to push for a close working relationship with the European Union. Not just directly but also using all the soft power at our disposal and through respected institutions such as the Council of Europe, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Inter-Parliamentary Union, our APPGs and more."

4. We lost this ‘Brexit election’ heavily. What did we get wrong on the Brexit strategy? 

There was no clarity of message and we did not please either side of the Brexit debate. While I personally understood our aim to bring both Leave and Remain voters together, I think we struggled to put this across to voters who did not understand our position. It is probably right that Leave voters just saw us as trying to frustrate the process, rather than for example protect our hard-won workers’ rights and environmental protections all the while Remain voters were frustrated that we weren’t speaking up loudly enough to remain in the EU. This lack of clarity meant there was no message discipline, with different MPs saying different things around the country. This confused voters as to our intentions and even caused people to turn against us. 

I think Labour now needs a strong, unequivocal message about what we stand for and hope to achieve. I think that people generally respect you more if your position is clear and can respectfully disagree if the intentions behind it are transparent. My position has always been consistent – I believe the UK is better off inside the European Union than outside it, and my actions have reflected the view of the majority of my constituents. I think that is the type of clarity that people wanted.

5. How would you win the arguments in the future about a strong relationship with the EU with voters and particularly those in areas that voted most strongly to Leave? 

"We need to do a better job of explaining to people the benefits of a close relationship with the EU. That doesn’t mean telling people they’re wrong or that they don’t understand, but explaining what it means in real terms for jobs and our economy and making the effort to go to all parts of our country to listen to people. We must explain for example the benefits that free movement has for us all, or even when it comes to basic things like roaming charges or queuing at airports. 

I also think people will understand the benefits of a close relationship with the EU in order to tackle the big issues that we cannot tackle alone. So we must explain to people that we cannot tackle the climate emergency without European and global cooperation, and it also why we need a strong relationship with the EU to fight terrorism and tackle crime across our borders. We need someone to make that strong case and as Deputy Leader I will do just that. 

But in doing so, we must address the impact globalisation has had on towns and some of our most rural communities, who we know have often felt left behind and do not feel like they have felt the benefit of EU membership. We must make sure that all our communities are involved in decision making and feel the benefit of our policies and decisions in the future." 

Candidates' answers to LME questions

We asked all of the Labour leader and deputy leader candidates five questions to help us decide who we nominate.


In politics, as in life, it is always dangerous to believe your own vanities or succumb to myths because blind belief is so much easier than rational analysis.

So too with Brexit and Labour as it stares into the infinity of an era of opposition without seats in Scotland and with a voter base that is no longer automatically on tap as it was in the 20th century and up to the end of the last Labour government.

            Myth No1: Brexit is over - Leadership candidates who were in the shadow cabinet fall over themselves to proclaim that Brexit cannot be revisited, cannot be challenged and it was all Jeremy Corbyn’s fault because he listened to his ageing advisors whispering 1970s Tony Benn nostrums about socialism in one country in his ears. The plain fact is that Brexit was mishandled from 24th June 2016 until October 2019. Shadow cabinet members who signed off on the absurdly confusing and contradictory policy based on a mixture of hokey cokey and sitting on the fence bear co-responsibility for the way Brexit turned into a weapon against progressive politics and a gift for Boris Johnson.

            Myth 2: Now we must all forget about Brexit and Europe - This is short-sighted. In 2014 I wrote a book Brexit; How Britain Will Leave Europe. I could not persuade any comrade in the PLP or trade union general secretary I had worked with to take the danger of a Brexit vote seriously. The Guardian comment pages were full of bilious attacks on Europe from Sir Simon Jenkins or Owen Jones advancing his concept to Lexit. Little wonder Labour Party activists were confused. Yes, it would be nice to pretend Europe can go away and Labour has no obligation to draw up an inventory of its failure to make any case on Europe in the last ten years of opposition. That won’t wash.

            Myth 3: Brexit will fade away - I argue in my new book Brexiternity. The Uncertain Fate of Britain (IB Tauris), launched this month, that we will be enmeshed in Brexit political issues for some years to come. I am happy to come to any CLP or Labour meeting to explain why – just contact me via LME. The Tories are going to fall apart over their internal contradictions on Europe. Labour should be exposing them. Sajid Javid's line that the UK will shun the Single Market, the Customs Union and reject any alignment with Europe is crazy and bring British capitalism to its knees. 

            Myth 4: Johnson is master of politics for at least a decade - Not so. He presides over a badly divided country where there was no majority for Brexit of any sort, let alone his Farage variety, either in opinion polls or in the ballot box. His majority is smaller than that of Margaret Thatcher in 1987 or Harold Wilson in 1966 - Both prime ministers were ousted within 3 or 4 years respectively. Johnson is vulnerable, especially if his extreme version of Brexit implodes.

            Myth 5: The EU is over for Britain - This is just silly. For centuries the defining relationship in British history, independent of empire, colonies or the English speaking world, has been how we relate to Europe. Brexit is a version of isolationism. The belief that if the UK just turns its back on Europe and all problems are solved is childish and ahistorical. On the contrary. Brexit is a historic wrong-turning. Britain is part of Europe. With Ireland, we are the western island nations of Europe. A future progressive politics can no more turn its back on Europe than we can on the world.

By Denis MacShane - former Labour Minister of Europe. His latest book is “Brexiternty. The Uncertain Fate of Britain” (IB Tauris-Bloomsbury)

Labour’s Five Brexit Myths

  In politics, as in life, it is always dangerous to believe your own vanities or succumb to myths because blind belief is so much easier than rational analysis. So...

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