Neil Kinnock condemns Corbyn for 'silence or ignorance' over Brexit

Former Labour chief suggests leader ‘let Tory Brexiters run amok’ as he endorses Owen Smith for party leadership

The former Labour leader Neil Kinnock has accused Jeremy Corbyn of showing “ignorance, lack of concern, or willingness to let the Tory Brexiters run amok” after the EU referendum, as he endorsed Owen Smith for leadership of the party.

In an article for the Guardian, Lord Kinnock says Corbyn has “either been silent on this central issue or so soft voiced that no one has heard a word” and adds that he believes the poll result could have been different if a Labour leader had made a passionate case for remain.

“It seems that he just wants to leave it all to the Tories who haven’t even got a government majority on the issue. That’s not leadership,” Kinnock wrote.

The Labour Movement for Europe, a party affiliate chaired by Kinnock, nominated Smith, the MP Pontypridd, by a margin of 10 to 1 this weekend, although Corbyn was far ahead of his rival in nominations from constituency parties, leading Smith by 273 nominations to 51.

Sebastian Vogt, LME’s national secretary, said its members viewed Smith as “the more genuinely pro-European candidate” and 81% backed him for the leadership.

Owen Smith MP speaking at a Labour leadership debate
Owen Smith MP speaking at a Labour leadership debate in Gateshead on 11 August. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Vogt said: “In the face of the biggest challenge facing our country in a generation it is vitally important that the Labour party continues to stand united in its proud internationalist tradition and does not let the Tories take us out of the European Union on this blank cheque they have given themselves.”

Smith, a former shadow work and pensions secretary, has been keen to put clear water between him and Corbyn, his once Eurosceptic rival, over policy on Europe, promising a second referendum and telling a hustings on Thursday that the party should be “fighting harder” to halt a “hard Brexit”.

Kinnock said he had long doubted Corbyn’s commitment to the remain campaign. “He entered the referendum campaign late, took a holiday in June, and described his enthusiasm for staying in the EU as seven out of 10. Plainly, the party leader’s commitment had neither clarity nor conviction – 10 events in six weeks was never going to be enough to mobilise potential support. On the most vital issue of this generation – the future national and international wellbeing of our country – the leader simply didn’t show leadership.”

Kinnock said Labour needed a leader who was “up to the task” of having a key role in shaping the UK’s relations with the EU. Smith, he said, could play that role. “He is a socialist to the core, a dedicated and knowledgeable European reformer, a gutsy campaigner and negotiator with radical and credible policies.”

Smith’s politics have regularly been compared with those of Kinnock; each has characterised themselves as being on the “soft left” of the party, rejecting unilateralism and battling internal opponents.

On Monday evening Corbyn will hold a rally for black and ethnic minority supporters of his leadership campaign in his Islington constituency, alongside the shadow health secretary, Diane Abbott.

The Corbyn campaign has had a testing few days, with the Labour leader using an Observer interview to accuse his deputy, Tom Watson, of talking “nonsense” about far-left entryists in the party. He will mention the appeal court judgment saying that Labour’s national executive committee did have the power to block new members from participating in the leadership ballot.

That case will now not be heard by the supreme court, after the five new Labour members who brought the original crowd-funded case against the party decided they would end their legal fight. Christine Evangelou, Edward Leir, Hannah Fordham, Chris Granger and FM, a teenage member, had argued that the ruling was a breach of their contract with the party. Although the high court ruled in favour of them, Labour brought the case to the court of appeal, which overturned the decision.

More than £93,000 had been raised on the members’ crowdfunding website, but Fordham wrote on Sunday that they had decided not to appeal directly to the UK’s highest court, citing the costs involved. “This has been an odd, emotional rollercoaster of a week for us all,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, given the costs involved in pursuing the case further ... we have taken the decision that this is where this particular legal case has to stop.”


Jessica Elgot

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Neil Kinnock urges people to join Labour to vote against Corbyn
Former Labour leader criticises Corbyn for not campaigning hard enough to keep Britain in the EU, in Guardian interview

Andrew Sparrow

08, Jul, 2016 @4:25 PM

Article image
Jeremy Corbyn promises to 'renationalise' NHS
In search for common ground among Labour MPs, party leader says he would end private firms’ involvement in provision

Heather Stewart

23, Aug, 2016 @9:00 PM

Article image
Corbyn holds out 'hand of friendship' to opponents - as it happened
All the day’s politics news as Corbyn promises policies to tackle five key ‘injustices’, and Theresa May heads to Paris for more Brexit talks

Andrew Sparrow and Claire Phipps

21, Jul, 2016 @4:02 PM

Article image
Neil Kinnock: backing Brexit deal politically 'lethal' for Labour
Former party leader tells colleagues in private Boris Johnson must be made to ‘own’ outcome of deal

Heather Stewart Political editor

04, Dec, 2020 @2:42 PM

Article image
Neil Kinnock warns Jeremy Corbyn: ‘Stop Brexit to save the NHS’
As 20,000 Labour members protest at party stance on Brexit, former leader adds pressure to resist leaving EU

Michael Savage Policy Editor

17, Feb, 2018 @9:01 PM

Article image
Jeremy Corbyn must challenge Brexit plans at PMQs, says Owen Smith
Labour challenger writes open letter criticising leader’s performance at previous prime minister’s questions

Jessica Elgot

07, Sep, 2016 @10:20 AM

Article image
Labour faces terminal damage if fighting goes on, warns Andy Burnham
Shadow home secretary says Jeremy Corbyn will have earned right to lead Labour party without interruptions if he renews mandate

Anushka Asthana and Rowena Mason

23, Sep, 2016 @9:17 PM

Article image
Jeremy Corbyn turns to grassroots after bruising day ends with Labour in turmoil
Call for party unity falls flat as backbenchers join attacks on leader, with shouting, tears and rival sides briefing against each other

Rowena Mason, Jessica Elgot and Anushka Asthana

28, Jun, 2016 @6:19 AM

Article image
Jeremy Corbyn's team issues list of MPs who it claims undermined leader
Deputy leader Tom Watson, Jess Phillips and Tristram Hunt among 14 Labour MPs singled out for allegedly abusing Corbyn and his allies

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

15, Sep, 2016 @6:21 AM

Article image
Jeremy Corbyn to pledge £500bn of spending in leadership speech
Labour leader will set out principles of his leadership before head-to-head encounter with his challenger, Owen Smith

Peter Walker and Rowena Mason

04, Aug, 2016 @8:44 AM