A speech from the former prime minister, setting out the case to “lead, not leave” will be the centrepiece of a day of events led by Labour but carefully choreographed with No 10, amid fears that without a strong remain verdict from Labour voters the referendum could be lost.
“From now until 10pm on 23 June, we will not rest and I will not stop explaining why 9 million Labour voters have most to gain from remaining in the EU,” Brown will say. After weeks of warnings about the risks of leaving the EU, Labour now hopes to switch the arguments to the benefits of staying in.
Brown will use the speech in Leicester to set out a series of reforms he believes Britain could achieve when it takes over the EU presidency of the council of ministers in the second half of next year, including action on tax havens and an EU “solidarity fund” to help communities facing a rapid influx of migrants. “Today I am setting out a positive agenda for Labour voters – reasons why Labour voters should vote remain and the patriotic case for remaining in Europe,” he will say.
With the referendum less than a fortnight away, the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign believes that between a third and a half of Labour supporters have not yet made up their minds about how to vote and won’t be convinced by being urged to back the status quo.
Brown’s intervention in the Scottish referendum campaign in 2014 was regarded by many as crucial and Stronger In hopes his voice still carries weight with Labour voters. “There is everything to play for and Labour will campaign across the country to mobilise Labour voters to back remain,” said a senior Labour source.
The former prime minister has already shared his EU reform proposals with his old foe David Cameron and the government has agreed to consider them.
Brown has also discussed Labour’s strategy in the final few days of the campaign with Jeremy Corbyn, Corbyn’s deputy, Tom Watson, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, in a rare show of unity between the Labour old guard and the current leadership.
McDonnell said: “These proposals from Gordon Brown are welcome and are part of the positive Labour case that I and others are making to vote to remain and reform the EU.”
The shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, will also make a speech setting out the “patriotic case” for Britain to remain in the EU on Monday and senior Labour women including Angela Eagle and Emily Thornberry will tour the West Midlands meeting women voters.
Benn told the Guardian he would confront head-on the argument that leaving the EU would allow Britain to “take back control”. “We are at the centre of this network of relationships and those relationships are central to having influence,” he said.
He will accuse leave campaigners of harking back to the age of empire. “They sound as if they mourn for the bygone age in which Britain gained influence through military strength and empire,” he will say. “In the second half of the 20th century, we came to realise that it was far better and far more effective to be a global power that achieved its goals through cooperation rather than conquest.”
Asked if he thought voters could choose to leave on 23 June, Benn said: “It’s very tight; this is a very tight referendum and that’s why we are working so hard.”
Appearing on ITV’s Peston on Sunday, McDonnell, who has coined the phrase “Tory Brexit” to spell out the risks to Labour voters of leaving the EU, said: “I’m where most people are at at the moment in terms of I’m fed up of project fear on both sides. I think what’s been happening is there have been exaggerated claims on both sides and that’s turned people off.”
The latest such warning came from David Cameron over the weekend, when he said the “triple lock” that protects the value of the basic state pension and ringfences the NHS budget could be under threat if Britain leaves the European Union.
Cameron defended his approach on the BBC’s Marr on Sunday, insisting the campaign had been “hugely optimistic and positive”. But speaking on the same programme earlier Ukip’s leader, Nigel Farage, said he believed there had been a shift in public opinion, with voters increasingly ready to “stick two fingers up at the political class”.
Farage is the target of a new poster by the advertising agency M&C Saatchi unveiled by the Stronger In campaign. It shows Farage and Boris Johnson sitting on the branch of a tree, which Farage is sawing off.
Cameron and the chancellor, George Osborne, have both suggested Farage’s “narrow, divisive” world-view has come to dominate the leave campaign. One poll for the Independent on Saturday gave leave a ten-point lead.
Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, became the latest public figure to add his voice to those calling for a remain vote at the weekend, saying Britain should be “a country for the world” and not “succumb to our worst instincts” over immigration.
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