McDonnell admits Labour is “walking a tightrope” on Brexit

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has admitted Labour is "walking a tightrope" on Brexit, calling for people outside the Westminster bubble to start making their voices heard.

The Labour frontbencher said he was "worried by the experience of the last 24 hours", referring to the debate and series of votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill yesterday, saying it was "a shame for all the politicians involved". On the one hand there were "hard Brexiters who see the EU as the fault of economic, and some social, woes", while on the other were "extreme Europhile romantics".

Telling TheCityUK annual conference he would give them some "honest politics", the MP said: "[Labour] are walking on tightrope. We campaigned for Remain but represent seats that voted heavily for Leave and what we are trying to do – on a cross-party basis – is bring the political reality of vote to Leave in line with reality of what that means in terms of jobs and living standards."

While he stressed that much of the blame with the chaos of the day was down to the "unprepared and undecided" government, he noted that Labour also played its part in adding to the confusion and urged people from outside Westminster to "speak up… express your views strongly on what could be a pivotal issue"

"We have just over four months before the deal has to be agreed, before it goes to the respective parliaments for sign off… and there is absolute confusion here and total confusion in the EU."

He warned we would be "faced with a cliff edge in the next 12 months" that would put jobs and the wider economy at risk "unless we get this right".

McDonnell added: "Now is the time for other voices to speak more loudly about the imminence of a threat of no deal, to your sector, local economies, jobs and living standards."

He also stressed the need to understand "more clearly what was behind the Brexit vote" which had unearthed "extreme divisions" between cities, suburbs and small towns who have been disillusioned by collapsing industries and the 2008 financial crash.

"Our country will remain divided unless we address those issues and there are fears that we see the fourth industrial revolution… if were not prepared for it and don't harness it effectively will make that division even worse."

And he told delegates that Labour had an "open door" as the party seeks to engage with the City while drafting future policies. "We want you to be partners in this exercise. I don't expect you to join the Labour party, but we want an honest critique," he said.

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