Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy has said one of her “biggest regrets” as an MP is her 2015 abstention on whether to hold an EU referendum as she should have voted against the bill that paved the way for Brexit.
Along with almost all Labour MPs, Nandy chose not to vote five years ago on the European Union Referendum Act, which she said put the British public in “an impossible position” for the subsequent vote.
Appearing on ITV’s Acting Prime Minister podcast, the Labour MP also said she felt there was “absolutely no reason” for which Boris Johnson could not reach an agreement with the EU before the end of this year.
On the 2015 vote on a referendum, the MP for Wigan said: “The big mistake I think I made, to be honest, was voting for that referendum without any kind of safeguard or guarantees in the first place.
“I didn’t actually vote for it because I didn’t agree with it, but I should have voted against it.”
She added: “That’s one of my biggest regrets. I abstained in the end out of deference for the party, and I argued against it, but I just think we put the British public into an impossible position.
“And when we got the result, it was obvious that all we’d done was manage to bring to the surface huge divisions that were not going to be easily resolved.”
On the current state of Brexit, the Shadow Foreign Secretary said the negotiations had become “ideological” and the government had got itself into a “really bizarre position” on sticking points such as state aid.
Nandy noted that she felt the EU’s opening position on some issues, such as fishing rights and state aid, had been “unreasonable” but said there was now an opportunity to find common ground for a trade deal.
“If we’d been in government, I would have been pushing very hard for us to push back on that and say to the EU, come on, you need to move closer to us and you need to compromise,” the Labour frontbencher said.
“There is absolutely no reason at this stage why the government shouldn’t be able to find an agreement around those things.”
Nandy added that she could not say how she would vote on a Brexit trade deal without seeing it first but said it was looking like there would be “nothing to vote for at all” – an outcome that she described as a “disaster”.
The former Labour leadership candidate was also asked about the current divisions in the party over the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer’s decision to not reinstate the party whip to his predecessor.
When asked whether Labour could overcome its divides, Nandy said: “I think what happens next is largely up to us, and obviously being in the shadow cabinet again and working very closely with Keir and the team, I feel that we have a particular responsibility to behave right.
“So when Keir said ‘this is not a political decision and we’ve got to have an independent process for how we deal with things like that’, I really support him.”
However, the shadow cabinet minister admitted that it was sometimes “very difficult” when political journalists ask about her personal views on the disciplinary process and the suspension of Corbyn.
“I’m the sort of politician who wants to come and level with people about what I really think but actually in this instance what I think is not relevant,” she said.
“What’s important is that we have an independent process that considers facts in the round, that people are given the benefit of the doubt, that they’re able to make their own case and then a judgement is formed.”