Labour ‘must stop treating Brexit voters as stupid or racist’

Jeremy Corbyn.
Jeremy Corbyn.
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Labour must stop treating Brexit voters like they are either stupid or racist, a former shadow cabinet member has warned.

Lisa Nandy, who quit her post as shadow energy and climate change secretary in the mass walkout from Jeremy Corbyn’s top team in protest at his leadership last month, said the Leave result was Labour’s final warning.

Lisa Nandy MP.

Lisa Nandy MP.

The Wigan MP insisted the party now had to listen to concerns about immigration in the wake of the referendum as she called for the outcome of Brexit negotiations to be put before voters for approval.

Ms Nandy said a tolerant and fair immigration system would not be about arbitrary numbers, but would target extra resources to public services in areas with high migrant populations, increase skills training so that people do not feel forced out of the market by foreigners, and boost wages for people on low incomes.

The MP warned that some voters felt a “burning injustice” they had not been given the skills to compete for jobs with migrants and that Labour was ignoring their concerns.

“How did Labour end up in this place where we were defending the interests of capital over the interests of labour? Labour voters who were voting out of the EU so that they could take back control of their labour market - and our response was to call them stupid, or to call them racist.

“We have to understand the burning injustice that is felt by young people whose nursing bursary has just been abolished. They are watching their dreams go up in smoke and they turn on the TV to find a Labour politician telling them to thank their lucky stars that we have got migrants who can staff their National Health Service,” Ms Nandy said in a speech at the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Ms Nandy said voters felt no one was listening to their “silent pain” and they backed Brexit in the hope it would shake up the political system.

“For my party, the Labour Party, Brexit is our final warning,” the MP said.

Ms Nandy, who has declared for Owen Smith in the Labour leadership contest, said the party needed to be involved in the Brexit “divorce” deal talks, and the outcome should be put to the people for ratification, either in a second referendum or a general election.

In a swipe at Mr Corbyn after the Labour leader called for a fast-track triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which officially launches Brexit, Ms Nandy said calls for such swiftness amounted to “nonsense”.

Unless Labour rejects “angry, sour politics” and forges a “new, patriotic vision for Britain” the party will die, Ms Nandy warned .

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