Boris Johnson’s Brexit position from never never land – David Miliband

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David Miliband spoke out on Brexit (Leon Neal/PA)

Boris Johnson’s Brexit stance is “straight out of never never land”, former foreign secretary David Miliband has said.

He criticised the performance of the Conservative leadership candidates in Tuesday’s TV debate, which he said “Jeremy Corbyn won”.

Questioned on Labour’s position on a second referendum, he said holding a People’s Vote is democratically the right choice.

Speaking in Edinburgh ahead of giving the annual Fulbright lecture, Mr Miliband said: “That would be the democratic thing to do.”

He added: “The Brexit now on offer is so different, I think it would be undemocratic not to have a second referendum.”

He continued: “What [Boris Johnson’s] said about Brexit in the leadership campaign has come straight out of the never never land of Brexiteer fantasy, which is if we shout louder and stamp our foot more we’ll get a different answer. I just don’t see that.”

He questioned the appeal of any of the candidates for prime minister, adding: “Who won the debate? Well Jeremy Corbyn won the debate.”

However, he criticised the Labour leader’s Brexit position, saying: “[Jeremy Corbyn’s] claimed he’s trying to speak for remainers and leavers and the truth is he’s not really appealed to either of them.

“That’s not the right dividing line, of course you should appeal to the whole country not just a part of it, but you appeal to the whole country by being clear on what you want, not by leaving everyone confused about what you want.”

The former Labour leadership contender, now president of the International Rescue Committee, said he was “one of the few people who voted for Labour in the European elections”.

He said one thing Brexiteers got right was recognising Brexit is a core domestic issue as well as foreign policy.

His lecture argued people are living in an “age of impunity” as global powers become less accountable and those engaged in conflict worldwide now believe they can get away with anything, including atrocities such as using chemical weapons.

He said this is reflection of weakening constraints on power both nationally and internationally, including from the US and by Brexit.

He argued Britain is not immune to this “political emergency”, adding: “The promise of Brexit was to make Britain an independent rule-maker, but in an interdependent world that is a mirage.

“In fact Brexit reduces our power in global rule-setting, makes us prey to the trade policies of the world’s big powers like the US and China, and castrates our foreign policy as the recent silence over the Hong Kong protests shows.”

He continued: “The retreat of key parts of the liberal democratic world from global responsibility, starting before the Trump administration but dramatically extended by it, has created a vacuum, which is being filled by a range of bad actors, who are exacting a terrible price from the world’s most vulnerable.”

He called on checks on power to be upheld at home and abroad and said there is new dividing line in politics “between those who believe that laws and norms to protect individual rights, in foreign policy and at home, are there to be observed and strengthened, and those who say ‘the law is for suckers’”.

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