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Gary Neville slams Labour for ‘sitting in stands’ by abstaining on coronavirus rules

Labour today came under fire for ‘sitting in the stands’ by abstaining on crucial coronavirus lockdown measures – as the party said it might not bother voting on any Brexit deal.

Former England and Manchester United star Gary Neville, now a businessman in the northern city, slammed Sir Keir Starmer for failing to take a position on the draconian tiers.

He insisted the Labour leader had a duty to be ‘bold’ and oppose the new rules that came into effect last week because there was not enough economic support alongside them.

The condemnation came as senior shadow ministers refused to rule out abstaining on any package Boris Johnson secures from the EU. 

Mr Johnson branded Sir Keir ‘General Indecision’ at PMQs last week after he ordered his MPs to sit out the crunch vote on new tiers in England. 

Former England and Manchester United star Gary Neville, now a businessman in the northern city, slammed Sir Keir Starmer for failing to take a position on the draconian tiers

Mr Johnson branded Sir Keir 'General Indecision' at PMQs last week after he ordered his MPs to sit out the crunch vote on new tiers in England

Mr Johnson branded Sir Keir ‘General Indecision’ at PMQs last week after he ordered his MPs to sit out the crunch vote on new tiers in England

Unite chief warns Starmer not to ‘sit on fence’ over Brexit deal 

Sir Keir Starmer has been warned against ‘sitting on the fence’ by abstaining during any parliamentary vote on a post-Brexit trade deal.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey insisted it would be ‘completely wrong’ for Labour not to vote one way or the other, should the UK and EU reach agreement, given it is the ‘most important issue of the day’.

Shadow ministers appearing on the Sunday round of broadcast interviews repeatedly said they wanted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to secure a deal, adding the party would reserve judgment on how to order its MPs to vote until the detail has been read.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, acknowledged abstaining was among the available options when dealing with issues in the Commons.

Sir Keir’s decision is likely to struggle to unite all of his MPs given differing views within the ranks on the best tactics.

Mr McCluskey highlighted the dilemma as he noted Sir Keir needs to ‘win the trust of the red wall seats’ and those who voted leave at the 2016 referendum, and be seen ‘not to be standing in the way’ of what people supported at the 2019 election.

He also told Times Radio: ‘On the other hand if it’s a thin deal, which I suspect it will be, if indeed we get a deal, he needs to also be in a position in six months if things are going wrong to be able to attack the Government without then being regarded a hypocrite because he voted for the deal.’

Mr McCluskey, whose union is one of Labour’s major financial backers, said he expects a deal would get through Parliament.

He added: ‘Frankly, Labour need – on the most important issue of the day – not to be seen to be sitting on the fence.

‘The idea of an abstention, to me, would be completely wrong. I hope they’ve learnt the lesson back in December that any confusion over this will be damaging to them.’

Pressed if Labour should not abstain but vote for a deal, Mr McCluskey replied: ‘Yes, in my opinion let’s get Brexit done and out the way, it won’t stop us being critical if indeed the deal gives us all kinds of issues and problems going forward.’

Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown said it would be up to Sir Keir to decide what the party does in relation to any deal, adding to Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: ‘I don’t think he will make his decision until he sees what the deal is.’

Sir Keir argued that the curbs were not strong enough and the Treasury should be providing more money for hard-hit areas.

But the neutral position meant the system was approved by the Commons, despite scores of Tories rebelling amid fury that 99 per cent of the country are under the toughest levels of restrictions.     

Mr Neville – previously a staunch Labour supporter – told Sky News’ Ridge On Sunday: ‘The restrictions being in place to protect health is fine, but they know that the economic support isn’t in place aligned with those restrictions, which means you’ve got to take a position and be bold and go against it, you cannot abstain.’

He said the people of Manchester were ‘frustrated with the lack of leadership’ in protecting the communities that are hardest hit.

‘So when you’re elected and you’re in that seat in Westminster, you take a position, you don’t abstain, you take part in the match, you’re the opposition.

‘The opposition – not sitting in the stand. They sat in the stand whilst the whole team had a clear run.

In a reference to the Tory rebellion, he added: ‘Even then they didn’t have a clear run because some of their own players got sent off.’

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds insisted the party ‘didn’t sit in the stands at all’. ‘The appropriate thing to do was not to block the regulations altogether,’ he said.  

Shadow ministers again refused to rule out abstaining on a Brexit deal this morning. 

The Labour leader gave his strongest signal yet last week that he will order MPs to support a package, saying almost anything is better than no deal.

Strategists fear that opposing or abstaining on new arrangements in a Commons vote could be a major setback to efforts to win back Leave-leaning ‘Red Wall’ seats in the north.   

However, there is deep disquiet at the idea of voting for an agreement among Sir Keir’s party – much of which is still deeply unhappy about Brexit.

There are claims that frontbenchers will resign rather than vote for an agreement, and many MPs will oppose it regardless of the whipping. 

Unite chief Len McCluskey highlighted the dilemma as he noted Sir Keir needs to ‘win the trust of the red wall seats’ and those who voted leave at the 2016 referendum, and be seen ‘not to be standing in the way’ of what people supported at the 2019 election.

He also told Times Radio: ‘On the other hand if it’s a thin deal, which I suspect it will be, if indeed we get a deal, he needs to also be in a position in six months if things are going wrong to be able to attack the Government without then being regarded a hypocrite because he voted for the deal.’

Mr McCluskey, whose union is one of Labour’s major financial backers, said he expects a deal would get through Parliament.

He added: ‘Frankly, Labour need – on the most important issue of the day – not to be seen to be sitting on the fence.

‘The idea of an abstention, to me, would be completely wrong. I hope they’ve learnt the lesson back in December that any confusion over this will be damaging to them.’

Pressed if Labour should not abstain but vote for a deal, Mr McCluskey replied: ‘Yes, in my opinion let’s get Brexit done and out the way, it won’t stop us being critical if indeed the deal gives us all kinds of issues and problems going forward.’

Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown said it would be up to Sir Keir to decide what the party does in relation to any deal, adding to Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: ‘I don’t think he will make his decision until he sees what the deal is.’

Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show if Labour would back any agreement on the future relationship, shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said: ‘Let’s see. At the moment the priority is to get a deal but we’ll have to look at the content of a deal but also any legislation that comes to Parliament.

‘We’re not going to give them a blank cheque but I think I have been very clear both today and on previous programmes with you, Andrew, that the most important thing is the Government gets a deal.’

Ms Reeves was repeatedly pressed about Labour’s position, to which she replied the Opposition wanted to see the content of any deal.

On Sky News today, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds insisted the party 'didn't sit in the stands at all' over coronavirus rules

On Sky News today, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds insisted the party ‘didn’t sit in the stands at all’ over coronavirus rules


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