Only Labour can “save Britain from Brexit” according to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who have come together with former Labour leaders to issue a warning to the party’s voters ahead of the EU referendum.
The two former prime ministers have put aside differences to sign a letter – published by the Guardian – that argues that a failure of Labour supporters to turn out in large numbers will lead to Britain opting to leave the EU.
Ed Miliband, Neil Kinnock, Harriet Harman and Margaret Beckett are also signatories to the statement that says a British exit would trigger a “bonfire of workers’ rights” under a rightwing Conservative government.
“If Labour stays at home, Britain leaves. And a vote to leave is a vote for a profound and permanent loss the whole country would feel, whether through lost jobs or lost generations. Only Labour can save Britain from Brexit,” they write.
The letter claims that Europe has protected workers, stimulated jobs and maintained lower prices, as well as ensured global action on climate change and terrorism. They insist that the EU chimes with Labour values.
“But make no mistake: this would be lost if we leave. Labour communities would face a double threat: the return of recession, led by a Tory government with an emboldened right wing,” they say. “In such circumstances Labour communities would suffer most: from spending cuts, neglect for the needy and a bonfire of workers’ rights. Those Labour seeks to represent – the hardworking, ambitious majority – have the most to lose if we leave. But also the most to gain if we remain.”
That should be the party’s future, they say. “But we need to vote for it ... That’s why we join with our present leadership in urging every person who seeks a progressive future for Britain to vote remain on 23 June.”
There are worries within Labour about a leaked analysis that shows that about half of the party’s voters are not clear that the Labour party is in favour of staying in the EU. Tom Watson, the party’s deputy leader, said he was very concerned that Labour’s pro-EU message was not sufficiently getting through to voters.
That was echoed by David Miliband, the former Labour foreign secretary, who returned to Britain on Friday to urge remain voters to turn out to cast their ballot on the day.
Attending a Muslim community meeting and Sikh temple in Birmingham on the Labour battlebus, with the former home secretary Alan Johnson, Miliband said the party faced “the fight of our lives”. They had to make arguments both with the government and on its own. “We have to do both, I think there’s a national interest case and there is a distinctly Labour case and we should be proud of both.”
Now resident in New York, where he runs an aid charity, Miliband argued in favour of Labour figures sharing platforms with Conservative rivals who had the common goal of staying in the EU.
“Where centre-right and centre-left agree, we should say so,” he said, dismissing fears that perceived closeness with the Tories could damage Labour electorally in a similar way to the aftermath of the Scottish referendum.
Miliband had flown in from New York for a second day of campaigning since his last appearance where he met the prime minister. He said speaking and agreeing on the same issue with Cameron was “a bit odd”. He added: “David Cameron and I looked at each other as if to say, fancy meeting you here. But the truth is that he is making a good argument. He’s making a core argument. It does not mean we can’t make the centre-left argument – there is a progressive, intellectualist, argument which needs to be heard.”
Labour should not be timid about speaking with Conservatives because of the party’s disastrous election results in Scotland post its independence referendum, he said. “I think it’s always important not to fight the last war,” he said. “This referendum has to be addressed in and of itself. What happened in Scotland actually happened after the referendum, and let’s not re-fight that. What we’ve got is a strong Labour campaign, actually an united Labour campaign. The media will say unity is boring but this unity is interesting and striking.”
In a new push to highlight their pro-EU stance this weekend, Labour figures are to take part in 30 rallies across Britain to speak in favour of membership and encourage voter registration alongside politicians from other parties.
Kinnock and Harman will take part in the coordinated series of events along with the Conservative business minister, Anna Soubry, the former Lib Dem Paddy Ashdown, and the Green party MP Caroline Lucas on Saturday.
Ashdown said the risks of not registering and voting were a victory for Brexit that would leave the UK “divided and weakened”. He said: “If we do not now pull out every stop to get people registered and get them to vote, then we risk a lost generation for Britain’s young people outside the EU,” he said.
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s leader, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, were also out campaigning in Cardiff on Friday evening for votes to remain in the EU.
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