John McDonnell dealt a blow to Boris Johnson’s hopes of getting a Brexit deal through Parliament today – if the Prime Minister eventually thrashes one out with the EU.
The shadow chancellor suggested the Tory deal would fall short of Labour demands and claimed he could not be trusted to safeguard key issues like workers and environmental rights.
He warned that the Opposition would be wary about Mr Johnson then “selling out the country” to Donald Trump in a trade deal with the US.
And he queried suggestions the Government could rely on up to 30 rebel Labour MPs with Leave seats to finally get a deal through Parliament
“I don’t think it’s anywhere near that. We’re talking about single or early double figures at best,” he said.
Everyone is saying let’s see what comes back. All the Tory media seem to be interested in is the Irish backstop, but there’s a whole range of other stuff we wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.”
In an exclusive interview with the Mirror on the eve of Labour’s annual conference in Brighton, Mr McDonnell suggested there was little chance of the party voting for Mr Johnson’s deal.
“We’ll look at what he brings back but the reality is it’s not going to be what we sought,” he said.
“We’re not going to allow him to do a deal which will basically allow him to sell the country out to Trump.”
Labour has pledged to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement with Brussels and then put that “credible” Leave option and Remain on the ballot paper in a second referendum
Jeremy Corbyn gave his strongest sign yet this week that he would follow the ‘Harold Wilson’ approach and resist demands to pick a side, simply pledging to deliver on whatever the public decides.
Mr McDonnell appeared to confirm this approach, indicating that Labour MPs with Leave seats would be allowed to openly back Brexit, although he would campaign for Remain.
“That will be part of it. People will have a realistic choice in front of them. Generally I think you have to accept different views,” he said.
And he insisted that Mr Johnson should recall MPs “immediately” if the Supreme Court rules he misled the Queen over suspending Parliament next week – saying it was “more important” to hold the Government to account than to have MPs at the party conference.
He brushed aside Downing Street’s plan to make the election, when it comes, about Brexit.
“In a long election campaign other issues will obviously emerge and the other issues are about the domestic agenda,” he insisted.
And he laughed off claims Mr Johnson could steal Labour’s thunder with his renewed focus on public spending in the North.
“It’s credibility. When you’ve got someone coming along for a publicity stunt in a town and somebody just has to get up and say ‘actually where were you when our factory closed?’, they’re confronted by the reality and people don’t forget.
“ Boris Johnson has this sense of entitlement. He insults the intelligence of working people. He thinks he can lie and gag his way through things, but people cut through it.”
Mr McDonnell ruled out any sort of coalition or deal with the Lib Dems or SNP post-election – insisting Labour would rule alone with a minority Government and go back to the country if it can’t get its legislation through.
“We’ll not do it with any of them,” he said. “We’ll go in, we’ll get a majority govt, if we don’t get a majority Government we’ll go in as a minority party Government.
“We’ll implement the manifesto. If any of those minor parties refuse to support us we’ll go back to the people.”
Mr McDonnell played down fears over Labour votes going to the Brexit party.
“They might be firm in their view about Brexit but they’re also concerned about all these other issues that can – not always – but can overbalance the Brexit issue.”
He suggested that the Lib Dems would be a bigger problem for the Tories than for Labour, despite fears among MPs that the Remain-focused party could take Labour votes.
Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson had “boxed herself in” by pledging to stop Brexit without a referendum.
Mr McDonnell, Mr Corbyn’s oldest ally, insisted Labour was ready for the election – and confirmed they had a strategy to oust Mr Johnson in his West London seat.
“We’re alright on finances, I can assure you of that… We’re in a better position now than we’ve ever been,” he said.
“We’re never going to be able to match the Tory party for money, we know that. The hedge funds are pouring money into Johnson at the moment.”
He added that candidate selection was “speeding up like mad” and those for all target seats had already been selected.
Mr McDonnell said that while he was “obviously up to local members” in Labour MP Harriet Harman’s seat to decide whether they stood a candidate against her if she took over from John Bercow as Speaker, he thought the tradition of not standing against an MP in that role should be preserved.
He raised the idea that the PM, his constituency neighbour, could stand in the much safer Ruislip & Northwood instead, after Tory MP Nick Hurd announced he would stand down.
But if he did not he claimed Labour had a strategy to oust Mr Johnson from his Uxbridge seat, where his majority halved to 5,000 at the last election.
“Remember the demographic is changing. There is a resentment. What they’ve got is someone who visits for the occasional photocall, not really engaged with the local community.”
And in a furious attack on Mr Johnson, he accused him of souring British politics and facilitating the rise of the far-right – revealing that he has been personally targeted with thugs daubing a Nazi sign and “McDonnell out” and “Leave means Leave” on the wall of a nursery near his home.
“I think he’s soured the atmosphere of British politics, with some of the language he’s used and the positions he’s taken,” he said, then referring to a conversation he had with one of the producers of a BBC documentary on the Nazis, who had raised parallels between then and now.
“I’m not saying we’re faced with a Nazi threat or anything like that but what I’m saying is that some if those ingredients we saw in the 1930s you can see emerging at the moment, which is politicians who have difficulty telling the difference between falsehood and truth, and promoting lies, a crony media in parts promoting those lies, attacks on the very institutions that protect our democracy.”
Daily Mail 20 September, Pippa Crerar.