EU Referendum

John McDonnell criticises EU vote campaign 'negativity'

John McDonnell

The EU referendum has been "extremely negative" and brought out the worst in Westminster politics, Labour's shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has said.

He accused Conservatives on both sides of the campaign of peddling the "politics of despair" and said voters wanted facts and "real vision".

In an appeal to Labour voters to back Remain, he warned that leaving the EU would expose UK workers to more "Tory cuts".

The in-out vote takes place on 23 June.

Voters will be asked whether they want the UK to stay in the European Union or leave it.

In a speech to union leaders at the TUC, Mr McDonnell attacked the Conservatives, saying the referendum had only come about because of "splits" in the party and "their fear of UKIP".

"As a result I think the debate has degenerated into the worst form of negativity and brought out the worst in Westminster politics. The negativity has been overwhelming at times," he said.

Mr McDonnell said voters had told him on the doorstep that they wanted "facts and real vision from politicians", and Labour needed to "rescue" the debate from the "Project Fear coming from all sides of the Tory party".

He added: "It's time to turn this debate around, drive out politics of despair and offer a vision for Britain in Europe."

'Tory cuts'

Setting out what he described as a "positive" case for the EU, Mr McDonnell said it helped to protect workers' rights, tackle tax avoidance and climate change and to support British industries.

"This is a vision of Europe based upon hope and solidarity," he told the audience.

The Remain campaign sees Labour voters as crucial to winning the referendum, and it is trying to mobilise the party's supporters to turn out and vote on 23 June.

Pitching the referendum as a contest between left and right, Mr McDonnell said Labour voters considering backing Leave needed to know "what could be on the cards" if Britain quit the EU.

Image caption Mr McDonnell defended EU immigration and accused Leave campaigners of pedalling "anti migrant rubbish"

"In plain English, if we have a Tory Brexit then we have the likelihood of more Tory cuts to come," he said.

The shadow chancellor also defended the levels of immigration into the UK and accused EU exit campaigners of pedalling "anti migrant rubbish".

He said migrants were not to blame for the pressure on public services or the fall in the value of wages, and said EU migration had benefited Britain.

'Uncontrolled migration'

BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith said his comments were likely to be seized on by Leave campaigners who have warned of the impact of EU migration on public services.

Former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, a Vote Leave campaigner, has said the EU is a "force for social injustice" and benefits the "haves" over the "have nots".

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He said "uncontrolled migration" from the EU drove down wages, undercutting UK workers, and increased the cost of living which, he said, hit the poorest hardest.

There was an increasing divide between "people who benefit from the immigration of cheap nannies and baristas and labourers - and people who can't find work because of uncontrolled immigration", he said.

Meanwhile, Labour's Frank Field has warned his party risks losing "a swathe" of traditional supporters to UKIP by campaigning to remain in the EU and failing to address their concerns over immigration.

The Birkenhead MP, who was welfare reform minister in Tony Blair's first government, suggested the referendum could turn out to be "the second-longest suicide note in Labour's history" - behind the manifesto that preceded its 1983 general election drubbing.

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