Labour will block Brexit, says leadership rival Owen Smith

Britain's opposition Labour Party leadership candidate Owen Smith. © Andrew Yates
Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith has vowed to stop the government triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the official process to bring Britain out of the EU, unless a second referendum is held on the final Brexit deal.

The leadership challenger said on Wednesday the party wants to stay in the EU and that he will hold a second referendum if he becomes prime minister.

Smith’s comments have sparked a backlash among Brexiteers, who described it as a snub to the 35 percent of Labour members who opted to leave the EU.

Britain voted to leave the EU by 52 percent to 48 percent on June 23 after a heated referendum campaign which exposed sharp divisions throughout the country.

Prime Minister Theresa May has ruled out triggering Article 50 this year, insisting it will take time to organize a “sensible and orderly departure.

Smith said Labour believes the UK should remain in the EU.

It would be irresponsible of Theresa May to simply trigger Article 50 and sleepwalk out of the deal.

“Labour still believes that we should be a part of the European Union.

Theresa May says that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ - but nobody knows what Brexit looks like. It could involve trashing workers' rights and environmental protections, opening our NHS up to foreign competition, making it harder for us to trade with our neighbors and damaging our economy,” he added.

Smith vowed that under his leadership, the Conservatives will not have a “blank check” and that Labour will block any attempt to invoke Article 50 without a second referendum or general election on the final exit deal.

Prominent Brexit campaigner and Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg accused Smith of ignoring millions of Labour voters who are in favor of leaving the EU.

It is a direct snub to Labour voters. We would not have won the referendum without the support of a very large number of Labour voters, particularly in the north of England. Rather than listen to them, he is now basically saying they are wrong.”