Division in Labour
Sarwar defies leadership to back single market
Anas Sarwar: prepared to oppose UK leadership on Brexit
Scottish Labour leadership candidate Anas Sarwar has opened up a division with his rival Richard Leonard over Brexit.
Mr Sarwar said he supports permanent UK membership of the single market in a move that he acknowledges also puts him at odds with Jeremy Corbyn who says remaining in the market may impact on the party’s plans to nationalise public utilities.
Mr Leonard defied the party whip and backed the UK government’s decision to trigger Article 50.
The issue has now moved to centrestage in the Scottish leadership race with Mr Sarwar declaring that a hard Brexit ‘is not inevitable’ and should be voted down in the UK Parliament.
He said Labour MSPs who voted with the Tories to trigger Article 50 had made a “catastrophic mistake”, and he also warned politicians from all parties against exploiting fears around immigration.
Mr Sarwar said that while Labour’s positive General Election message ‘For The Many, Not The Few’ encouraged SNP voters back to the party, too many voters turned to the Tories over the issue of a second independence referendum.
He said as leader he will fight on both fronts – unwavering support for Scotland’s place in the Union, and the offer of radical change through ‘socialism, not separation’.
Mr Sarwar acknowledged that some of his comments will cause dividing lines in the party, but said he will always put Scotland first.
Speaking at The Lighthouse in Glasgow, he said: “Under my leadership, we will support remaining in the single market and the customs union. Permanently.
“I don’t want a temporary membership of the single market just to soften the blow of hard Brexit, I want working people to keep the benefits of – and a say over – the single market. Not just access, but membership.
“This is the only way to tackle austerity, protect jobs, and defend our rights.
“If we want to be able to fund our manifesto, we simply can’t afford an unprecedented hit to our public finances.
“I want us to keep the rights and protections that come as part of the European deal.
“And I want businesses to invest here in Scotland and across the UK, providing opportunities to grow our economy.”
He added: “I do not believe that a hard Tory Brexit is inevitable.
“If a deal is put before us that will harm our public services and our economy beyond repair, we do not have to accept it. Why should we accept something that will make people poorer?
“Let us not forget that Theresa May doesn’t have a majority. There are 13 Scottish Tory MPs in Westminster. They can help to stop a hard Brexit if they do the right thing by the people of Scotland they represent.
“We can vote down a bad Brexit deal in the UK Parliament. And we can fight for a better deal.”
On the triggering of Article 50, he said: “When the Scottish Parliament voted on triggering Article 50 earlier this year, our leader Kez Dugdale was clear that we could not stand alongside the Tories. She was right.
“But some MSPs in our party, including my opponent in this contest, chose to break away from their colleagues and join with the Tories.
“I ask you this: why, in this fight against the hard-Brexit nationalists of the Tory party, was anyone in Scotland prepared to stand with Theresa May on this issue?
“I tell you this: I have never, and I will never, break the Labour whip to vote with the Tories.”
On opposition to independence, he said: “The Labour Party I lead will never, ever, support independence or a second independence referendum.”