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Labour policy on Trident renewal could change, John McDonnell says

Published 27/09/2016

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell speaks at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell speaks at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool

One of Jeremy Corbyn's closest allies has insisted that the debate on Trident within Labour is not over despite the shadow defence secretary claiming he viewed the matter as closed.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the issue was still under review after defence spokesman Clive Lewis asserted that he would not try to "undo" the existing policy supporting the renewal of the nuclear deterrent.

Mr McDonnell and party leader Mr Corbyn are opposed to the nuclear deterrent and the shadow chancellor insisted it remained "open" for debate.

The shadow chancellor's intervention came after a bizarre episode at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool which saw Mr Lewis's speech reportedly amended to water down his position just minutes before he addressed activists.

The shadow defence secretary reportedly punched a wall in anger after a section of his speech in which he committed to maintaining the current pro-renewal policy was deleted on the orders of Mr Corbyn's main aide Seumas Milne.

In a statement clarifying his position Mr Lewis told the Guardian: "I won't be coming back to conference between now and the next election to try to undo the policy we have on Trident as things stand."

But Mr McDonnell said the policy was still under review as part of a wider examination of Labour's stance on foreign affairs and defence issues.

And he added it remained open to members to seek to change the policy.

Responding to Mr Lewis's comments the shadow chancellor told BBC Two's Newsnight: "His view is that the matter has been decided for the time being. But it is always open for our party members to raise these issues."

He said the current policy review would allow people's views to be taken into account.

"His (Mr Lewis's) view is he can't see it coming back, it's as simple as that. However it is open to others in that review to say actually we do want it discussed again."

In a wide-ranging interview the shadow chancellor also said immigration levels should depend on the state of the economy.

Asked if that would be lower than current levels he said: "We will see how the economy develops. It is always unpredictable at this stage because we want to grow the economy. At different stages in growing that economy there may well be opportunities, therefore, where immigration is important to ensure that economy grows."

He said that following the Brexit vote Labour wanted to ensure access to the European market.

"That will be associated with free movement of labour, which we have supported up until now.

"But we accept that free movement of labour has consequences. That includes, potentially, the undercutting of wages and working conditions and pressure on public services.

"So we will address those issues."

He said people sometimes needed assistance in overcoming the "fears" caused by immigration.

"It's not an objection to immigration. People are fearful of change sometimes and our job in government, and at every level of government, is to assist people to overcome those fears and to address that issue of change."

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