John McDonnell embarrassed on BBC as he struggles to unravel post-election Brexit policy
The Labour MP claimed Parliament should reconvene “in the next few days” to work to avoid a no deal Brexit scenario. Talking to BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, the Shadow Chancellor claimed his party would consider a “range of options” should an early general election be won by Jeremy Corbyn, hinting his party may allow for a second Brexit referendum before negotiating a new deal with the EU.
But asked by BBC radio host Justin Webb to clarify the position, Mr McDonnell struggled to commit to a clear policy.
Mr Webb asked: “Your point is that you would be putting those options to the people before negotiating them.
“In other words, we’re not talking about a lengthy delay. You are ruling out a lengthy delay after an election and a Labour government before a referendum was held?”
The Shadow Chancellor claimed that would be “one option that would be discussed” by his party after an election.
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Adamant to get a clearer answer, Mr Webb replied: “Right. So it could actually then take a year or so for a new deal to be negotiated by Labour if that was the decision of Labour internal democracy.”
But the Labour frontbencher said: “I don’t see it as that. If you look at what’s happened in the past, the reason it has dragged on in the negotiations in the past to find out what is credible and what is not, and the debates in Parliament, is because the options that have been put forward have not been credible by Theresa May, and they have not been sound, even credible within the European debate that’s taking place.
“So I think there is a real route through now. The most important thing now is (to) block no deal.
“I think the opposition parties and reaching across to Conservative MPs as well, I think there is still a majority in Parliament to say to Boris Johnson that we will not accept a no deal.
“I think there is a gaining majority now to say we have to go back to the people in some form of public vote and that is, in my view, a referendum, that’s the Labour party policy now, and therefore we are narrowing down the discussion into what then goes on the ballot paper.”
More than 100 MPs have signed a letter demanding Boris Johnson recalls Parliament, and Mr McDonnell said he too backed the move.
“There is a need now to bring MPs back together again because we need time now to really have a proper debate and discussion about this matter,” he told Today.
The Prime Minister faced calls to step up efforts to secure a Brexit agreement after the risks posed by a no deal outcome were outlined in documents on Operation Yellowhammer – the Whitehall codename for no deal preparations – obtained by the Sunday Times.
They warned that Britain will be hit with a three-month “meltdown” at its ports, a hard Irish border and shortages of food and medicine if the UK leaves without an agreement.
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No deal planning supremo Michael Gove played down Operation Yellowhammer, and Number 10 insiders sought to blame disgruntled ex-ministers for the leak.
According to the documents, petrol import tariffs would “inadvertently” lead to the closure of two oil refineries, while protests across the UK could “require significant amounts of police resources” in a no deal scenario.
But a Number 10 source said: “It has been deliberately leaked by a former minister in an attempt to influence discussions with EU leaders.
“Those obstructing preparation are no longer in Government, £2 billion of extra funding (has been) already made available, and Whitehall has been stood up to actually do the work through the daily ministerial meetings.
“The entire posture of Government has changed.”
Mr Gove, the Cabinet minister responsible for no deal planning, insisted Yellowhammer represented a “worst-case scenario” and said “significant” steps have been taken in the last three weeks to accelerate Brexit planning.