Yvette Cooper to focus attention on response to refugee crisis

Yvette Cooper

Yvette Cooper, pushed into third place in the Labour leadership race, has said she is to dedicate herself to help step up the British and European response to the refugee crisis.

Looking focussed on Tuesday, just three days after a heavy – if largely expected – defeat, Cooper said that a mix of personal and political reasons have led her to decide to stay outside Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, her firstbreak from front bench politics since 1999.

Speaking to the Guardian, she said that she had two discussions with Corbyn before reaching an agreement on her political future. She said: “It was a decision for now and is right both for the party and the new leader. It is about each of us deciding what is right in the circumstances, and for me it is the right thing to focus on the refugee work.

“It is the right thing for Jeremy to be able to get on with it, and I don’t play a part in the shadow cabinet. Given all the debates we have had, I don’t want to be asked continually to second guess what Jeremy needs to do and to get on with.”

Cooper agreed with Corbyn to act as a Labour envoy on the refugee crisis after she became the first front rank politician three weeks ago to call for Britain to take 10,000 refugees, including some from Europe.

The former shadow home secretary said it would be “disastrous if Europe simply kicked the refugee crisis down the line”, adding she was deeply worried by the build up of refugees in Greece and the failure of the EU to come to an agreement.

“This is a huge challenge to Europe, potentially bigger than the eurozone crisis,” she warned. “If there is no solution the crisis will be exploited by parties of the right and affect attitudes to Europe here.”

Cooper also said that she believed it was important a climate of euro-scepticism did not develop inside the Labour party. “We have to keep up our internationalism. I think it is really important that Labour has a strong yes campaign and a strong commitment to be part of Europe.”

She said that does not preclude Labour arguing for reforms or to criticise the terms imposed on Greece in its most recent bailout, but to argue for reform before, after, and during the referendum, rather than making support for Europe conditional on the outcome of talks.

She said she could not withdraw any of the very sharp criticisms she had made of Corbyn’s politics, especially his economic plans. In a speech in Manchester in August she said a Corbyn leadership would pull the party apart and make Labour unelectable.

She claimed Theresa May, the home secretary, wielded no influence in Monday’s EU negotiations due to Britain’s own failure to take refugees in Europe. “If we want Hungary to respond in a different way to the crisis we have to offer more,” she claimed.

Cooper disclosed she will be travelling to Europe to discuss the crisis and she was a strong supporter of the decisions being made to reintroduce border controls within Europe.

“They have to reintroduce border controls just to manage what is happening and to crack down on these awful criminal smuggling gangs. A quota system across the EU is not right, but there has to be a coordinated plan across different European countries. Historically in big European crises Britain has provided leadership.”

The MP said a reintroduction of border controls was separate to any discussion of free movement of labour across the EU.

Although some will say she will be sitting on the backbenches waiting for Corbyn to fail, she said she got on well with Corbyn personally. Asked if she could see Corbyn becoming a successful prime minister, she said: “That is what we have all got to work for.”

She added: “We had a good an important debate in the leadership campaign. There will be important policy debates and of course I will be part of that debate and I am not changing my views, especially on Europe. I want to be part of that campaign for Europe. But Jeremy has won. It was a really clear win. He has now got to be able to get on with the job.”

Asked if she was being disloyal when many of her colleagues had decided to participate in his administration, Cooper said: “Everyone is going to respond in different ways, but I think it is really important it is not seen there is a big divide between those who are in frontbench positions and those that are not.

“We must not have an artificial division, and the focus has to be on reaching out to the country. Jeremy was a backbencher for a very long time. Some of Jeremy’s colleagues don’t want to serve on the frontbench.”

But she endorsed the decision of her former campaign manager Vernon Coaker to join the shadow cabinet in the Northern Ireland role.

She said that the defeat of her husband Ed Balls in the general election took a toll on her and her family. She said: “The truth is I found the first couple of months of the leadership election hard to get going because of having just come out of the general election. So for me it feels right to take a break and it is a decision for now. I have been non-stop on the frontbench in cabinet or shadow cabinet since 2008.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Patrick Wintour, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 15th September 2015 20.13 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010