In Brief

Labour leadership: Jess Phillips could press to rejoin EU

Candidates set out their stalls ahead of today's starting pistol

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Labour MP Jess Phillips says she could campaign to re-enter the EU at the next general election if she becomes party leader.

“You would have to look at what is going on at the time,” she told the BBC. “What our job is, for the next three years, is to hold Boris Johnson to account for all the promises.”

“So if we are living in an absolute paradise of trade, and we’re totally safe in the world, and we’re not going to worry about having to constantly look to America for our safety and security, then maybe I’ll be proven wrong.

“But the reality is that if our country is safer, if it is more economically viable to be in the EU, then I will fight for that, regardless of how difficult that argument is to make.”

Although hardline Remainers might welcome Phillips’ statement, the New Statesman said her position is a “bold gambit” which has “set alarm bells ringing in the PLP”. The Herald remarked that “if it’s a question of leadership, Jess Phillips isn’t the answer”.

However, Sir Keir Starmer, who has previously campaigned for a second Brexit referendum, said that debate is now over.

Launching his own bid for party leadership he said: “We are going to leave the EU in the next few weeks; and it’s important for all of us, including myself, to realise that the argument for leave and remain goes with it. We are leaving. We will have left the EU.

“This election blew away the argument for a second referendum, rightly or wrongly, and we have to adjust to that situation,” added Starmer, who is ranked as the frontrunner by Sky News.

Speaking to The Guardian, Clive Lewis, another Remainer leadership hopeful, struck a similar chord. “If we now spend the next five years or longer looking back, and define our future as rejoining the EU we’ll lose the next stage of this battle, which is about whether we’re going to be an isolationist, inward-looking, xenophobic country, or an outward-looking, progressive, internationalist country.”

On other issues, the candidates began to distance themselves from Corbyn’s policies. Phillips promised to bring the railways into public ownership if she became prime minister, but suggested she would have bigger priorities than renationalising Royal Mail, water and energy companies.

Lisa Nandy was also concerned with priorities: she launched her own campaign by saying she would ditch Labour’s multibillion-pound plan to provide free superfast broadband across the country, because there were “more pressing issues”.

Emily Thornberry took issue with the recent party manifesto. She said the “dreadful” general election result was partly because the manifesto “just wasn't convincing because their was too much in it”.

The Labour party’s ruling National Executive Committee will meet today to set the timetable for the contest, which is expected to formally start tomorrow. The new leader is expected to be in place by the end of March.

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