Labour rivals Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith clash over leaving EU

Labour Party leadership rivals Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith have clashed over leaving the European Union in a live North East hustings debate.

Friday, 12th August 2016, 6:30 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 6:52 pm
Jeremy Corbyn, left, and Owen Smith take part in a Labour leadership hustings at the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead hotel. Pic: PA.

Mr Corbyn insisted at a live debate in Gateshead last night that the Labour Party must accept the result of the EU referendum after Mr Smith accused him of being "10 out of 10" for leaving.

Mr Smith said the EU was the "biggest disagreement between Jeremy and myself" but stressed he did not blame the leader for the vote to leave.

Jeremy Corbyn watches as Owen Smith, right, speaks during a Labour leadership hustings at the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead hotel. Pic: PA.

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He said: "Jeremy himself admitted he was seven out of 10 in terms of his faith in the European Union. He said it.

"What's been disappointing since is that having not made the effort we should have made, Jeremy's been 10 out of 10 when it comes to leaving Europe."

Stressing his support for a second referendum, he added: "We should still be fighting harder, and if I were the leader I would be saying to the country 'let's negotiate hard, let's demand that our mandate, because our people voted In by and large, is properly observed, let's argue alongside the Tories for a proper Brexit'.

"If it's worse... if it turns out we've been lied to, on the NHS, on immigration, then we should fight to stay in, that's what leadership on Europe would look like for this country."

Jeremy Corbyn watches as Owen Smith, right, speaks during a Labour leadership hustings at the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead hotel. Pic: PA.

But Mr Corbyn, who has set up a Brexit monitoring group, said the party should focus on building relationships with other socialist movements to ensure that protections, such as workers' rights, gained through the EU are not lost.

He said: "We have to have a strategy which builds the best possible relationship with our sister parties and unions all across Europe, whether they're part of the EU or not.

"A referendum has taken place and I think we have to recognise that, whatever we feel about it, there is a result from that referendum which we have to work with."

The eventat the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead Hotel was the second in a series of hustings planned during the leadership campaign.

The pair were briefly plunged into darkness when the lights at the venue failed, creating some awkward laughter on stage.

Mr Corbyn questioned whether they should continue in the darkness, while Mr Smith joked: "I blame the Tories".

The audience was repeatedly asked by the host, Sky News' Sophy Ridge, to refrain from booing, often aimed at Mr Smith.

Mr Corbyn appeared to have the largest share of support, receiving a prolonged standing ovation at the end of the debate.

Criticising the embattled leader, Mr Smith said his first act if he were to win the election would be to create a full shadow cabinet - something Mr Corbyn has struggled to do following a wave of resignations.

To boos, Mr Smith said: "I'd start by doing something that Jeremy unfortunately can't do, I would put together a shadow cabinet of all of the talents of the Labour party....

"The reason I would be able to do that is they know that I would be able to lead them effectively against the Tories.

"Jeremy can't do that and that's why we need to change the leader of the Labour party."

In a further swipe, he made it clear he would not be prepared to serve in Mr Corbyn's cabinet again because "I have lost confidence in you".

Mr Corbyn, whose team launched a "myth-busting" website on Thursday to challenge claims made by critics, said he was "disappointed" by the rejection, adding that he intends to offer shadow cabinet positions to those across the political spectrum of the party in a bid to bring it together.

Welcoming the surge in new party members, Mr Corbyn added: "Owen, our party is a strong party, our party is a big party, our campaigning abilities are immense if we work together on those campaigns."