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Owen Smith accuses Jeremy Corbyn of being 'happy' about vote for Brexit

Published 25/08/2016

Labour leadership challenger Owen Smith has accused Jeremy Corbyn of being "happy" about the vote for the UK to leave the EU.

Mr Smith repeatedly questioned whether Mr Corbyn had voted to remain in the EU in June's referendum, during bad-tempered exchanges at the event in Glasgow.

Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith attend a Labour Party leadership debate on August 25, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith attend a Labour Party leadership debate on August 25, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

He attacked Mr Corbyn for being "complacent and passive" about the result of the vote, but was heckled by audience members who accused him of being anti-democratic.

Mr Smith said: "The reason I think that Jeremy can be so complacent and passive about this is that he's happy about the result. He's not bothered about the result.

"The truth is of course that Jeremy is quite content now for us to sit back and for that hard Brexit that Liam Fox and David Davis and Theresa May are going to produce to take place.

"And I say to him, if he's so concerned about protecting workers' rights why on earth would we allow the Tories to implement a Brexit deal which is going to see workers' rights in this country sold down the river?"

Mr Smith said he was "gutted" by the EU referendum result, and said he was prepared to fight Brexit by opposing a vote to trigger Article 50 in parliament and by pledging to remain or rejoin the EU in a manifesto for the next general election.

He added: "Jeremy didn't fight hard last time round. I will."

Mr Smith continued: "Even if the Brexit deal that is on offer in 18 months, or two years or three years time at the next general election is worse for the British people, Jeremy's not going to put into a manifesto that we should reject it and act to stay in the European Union.

"That is an incredible admission for Jeremy to make and it makes me certain that Jeremy has never wanted us to stay in the EU."

He was booed as he added: "I'm not even sure Jeremy did vote In."

Mr Corbyn responded: "I thought we had grown up, we weren't any longer going to use those kind of questions."

Asked directly how he had voted, he said: "You know perfectly well that the answer is that I voted Remain and I'm very surprised and indeed disappointed by the question."

The Labour leader said the referendum had taken place and delivered a result, which was not the one he wanted but it had to be respected.

He said he would fight to protect workers' rights and consumer rights and to ensure "there is an effective economic relationship with Europe when the Brexit negotiations are completed".

He added: "We don't want to become a low-wage tax haven bargain basement economy off the shores of Europe."

Mr Smith earlier said his "grave fear" is that the Labour Party will split unless Mr Corbyn is replaced as leader.

Mr Corbyn responded: "It's an enormous honour to be selected and elected as a Labour member of Parliament.

"You have a huge responsibility to the community that has elected you and the party that has selected you and put you there, so the idea, as happened with the SDP in the 1980s, that you could walk away into the arms of wealthy donors and set up some other organisation is a complete and utter anathema to me.

"I want our party to be democratic and accountable."

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