Tories accuse Corbyn of ‘chaotic incoherence’ over Brexit

Labour chief refuses six times to say whether Britain would quit EU if he becomes PM

The Conservatives have accused Jeremy Corbyn of "chaotic incoherence" over Brexit after he first said the issue had been settled - but later refused six times to say whether Britain would definitely leave the European Union if he were to become prime minister.

The Labour leader sought to shift the focus away from Brexit when he launched his party's general election campaign in Manchester on Tuesday morning.

He accused prime minister Theresa May of using Brexit to distract attention from economic issues, declaring that the "issue has been settled" and the only question was what kind of Brexit it would be.

But when the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg asked him later whether that meant Britain would leave the EU, whatever deal was on the table, he refused repeatedly to say that it did.


‘A good deal’

"[If] we win the election, we'll get the good deal with Europe. A good deal with Europe that will ensure that the very large number of manufacturing jobs in Britain that rely on trade with Europe won't suddenly find themselves under World Trade Organization rules where there'll be a tariff wall put up immediately around this country," he said.

One of Mr Corbyn's aides said later that Britain will definitely leave the EU if the party wins next month's election. But Brexit secretary David Davis said the Labour leader's statements showed he would be unable to represent Britain successfully in negotiations with the EU.

“The chaotic incoherence of Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to Brexit means that the 27 other EU countries would make mincemeat of him in the negotiations. This morning he said he was settled on leaving the EU – this afternoon he can’t say whether he will do it.

“We simply cannot take the risk of Corbyn in Downing Street in four weeks’ time negotiating Britain’s future,” Mr Davis said.

Earlier, in a sign of her growing confidence ahead of the election, Ms May risked upsetting Conservative modernisers by promising to give MPs a vote on lifting a ban on hunting foxes with dogs.

The Conservatives have long promised a free vote on the issue, but pro-hunting MPs have not pressed for a vote because they were not confident of winning. A big Conservative majority next month could change the arithmetic and the prime minister said she favoured overturning the 12-year-old ban.

“As it happens, personally I have always been in favour of fox hunting - and we maintain our commitment. We have had a commitment previously as a Conservative Party to allow a free vote - and that’s what it will allow, would allow, Parliament the opportunity to take a decision on this,” she said.

Ambition to be PM 

In a joint interview with her husband Philip on the BBC’s magazine show The One Show on Tuesday night, the prime minister said she had wanted to be an MP since she was in school. Her husband revealed she has harboured an ambition to be prime minister for more than a decade.

“I never heard her saying she wanted to be prime minister until well-established in the shadow cabinet,” he said.

Ms May told the programme that, although Britain is leaving the EU, it will continue to take part in the Eurovision Song Contest.

“In the current circumstances I’m not sure how many votes we’ll get,” she said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times