Keir Starmer has denied changing his stance on Brexit to appeal to Leave voters after he unveiled plans for a “take back control” bill under a Labour government.
The Labour leader insisted he had reflected on the 2016 referendum on EU membership and had listened to the “emotional case for change”.
Asked if he was “shifting” his message to appeal to swing voters who backed Brexit, he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Sir Keir said: “No, Sophy – I’ve long reflected on that referendum.”
“Sitting beyond that [2016 referendum] there was a very powerful emotional case for change, which I don’t think most remain voters would argue with, I certainly didn’t,” he added. “The other side of Brexit is delivering the change needed in this country.”
Sir Keir said the powerful “take back control” slogan was “a Heineken phrase – it got inside people”, arguing many people still felt they wanted more control over their economic destiny.
“If you don’t feel you can make your household budget balance, you don’t feel you’ve got control … That powerful case for change, I’ve always accepted that. I think most people that voted Remain would accept that as well.”
Earlier this week, Sir Keir promised that a “take back control” bill aimed at devolving power out of Westminster will be the centrepiece of a Labour government’s first King’s Speech.
He said the flagship bill would “spread control” out of Westminster – devolving new powers over employment support, transport, energy, housing, childcare provision and spending to local and regional authorities.
The Labour leader also said he would set out his plans to “make Brexit work” in more detail after his frontbencher Lisa Nandy said the party would look to align the UK with EU laws in more areas than just veterinary standards and security.
However, Sir Keir has recently ruled out rejoining the EU single market and freedom of movement been the UK and the bloc – insisting it was a “red line” for the party.
The Labour leader was challenged on Sky News about his previous remarks, upon the UK’s exit from the EU, saying he would “defend free movement as we leave the EU”.
“We’ve left [the EU],” he said. “Now we’ve got to face the future we’re in … What do you want now? Do you want to go back? … Freedom of movement has come to an end, therefore a different question arises – what immigration system do you want now?”
Sir Keir also defended Labour’s backing greater use of the private sector to drive down NHS waiting lists, despite his leadership pledge to “end outsourcing in our NHS”.
The Labour leader said: “We’re not talking about privatising the NHS. The NHS has always used elements from the private sector, GPs are an example of that.”
Pressed about his pledge to restrict outsourcing, Sir Keir replied: “Outsourcing of some issues and functions I don’t think has been very effective.”
He added: “Let me be clear, we’re not talking about privatising the NHS, we’re talking about using the private sector effectively. Free at the point of use is an absolutely governing principle as we go into this review, but we do need change and reform.”
Mr Starmer warned that the NHS is “not just on its knees, it’s on its face”, as he criticised the government’s record and failure to engage in talks with unions on pay demands to avoid further strikes.
He added: “Nurses have never had a national strike. It’s a badge of shame for the government that it’s come this. All their asking from the government if to discuss pay. If we were in government, we would go in the room and discuss [pay].”