UK Politics

Owen Smith 'would consider rejoining EU' if PM

Owen Smith Image copyright Jeff Overs/BBC

Labour leadership hopeful Owen Smith says he would consider applying to rejoin the EU if he became prime minister when the UK had already left.

Mr Smith said he could support the move if the UK was in recession or the NHS was "on its knees".

He has previously called for the public to have a say on the terms of the UK's Brexit deal.

Mr Smith promised to fight a general election making a "really strong case for us to stay" in the EU.

But if Theresa May formally triggers Brexit using Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty next year, the UK will have left the bloc before the next scheduled general election in 2020.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Smith - who is pitching himself as more pro-EU than current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn - said it was hard to answer a "hypothetical question" about what he would do if he took over with the UK already outside the EU.

But he said if the "price of staying out" was a recession and damage to the NHS "then I think the sensible and responsible thing for a Labour government to do is to say we are better off in the European Union".

Asked if that meant the UK accepting the euro and becoming part of the passport-free Schengen zone, he said "potentially - but again we are getting into hypotheticals built on hypotheticals".

Uniting the party

Despite June's vote to leave the EU, Mr Smith predicted "we will be telling a very different story to the British people" in the future if people's livelihoods are suffering.

He reiterated his call for a second referendum or a general election - to take place before the UK leaves the EU - on the terms agreed for Brexit.

Mr Corbyn's team pointed out that the leader of the GMB union - one of Mr Smith key backers - had disagreed with him on his calls for a second referendum.

Tim Roache told Sky News: "I think that boat has sailed," adding that "democracy has determined that we are coming out of Europe".

Mr Corbyn's spokesman said: "If he (Mr Smith) can't unite his own supporters, how can he unite our party?"

Labour will announce its new leader at a special conference on 24 September, with the party divided between MPs opposed to Mr Corbyn and the leader's support base among members.

The MPs who signed a no-confidence motion in Mr Corbyn were criticised by union leaders at a rally ahead of the TUC conference in Brighton.

Steve Gillan, of the Prison Officers' Association, called for Mr Corbyn to be re-elected to implement "proper socialist policies", while Mick Cash of the RMT said the critical MPs had given the Conservatives "an easy ride".

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