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Live from Brighton - Brexit (again)

For those thinking Brexit has been shunted out of this year's Conference, think again.

A fringe meeting on "How We Handle Brexit" with speakers Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn, Chuka Umanna and Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU Keir Starmer was so popular that queuing began an hour before the event started. And many were unlucky enough to be locked out of the room because it was so packed. Standing room only.

All four were also united in their approach to how Labour should handle Brexit and take on the Tories.

And Starmer backed what I wrote earlier this week - suggesting that we should also look at the root causes of why so many,  including voters in traditional Labour heartlands, voted to leave the EU in the first place.

He said: "There is real unity. There are disagreements on how we want to achieve it but ultimately we want the same goal. 

"The vote was 52 per cent to 48 per cent but we need to do it for the 100 per cent. We have to respect both sides.

"This vote came from years and years of political failure and neglect of communities. To understand what happened, why did the phrase 'Get Back Control' resonate so loudly. People felt they had no control, no job security, because their wages weren't going up and they felt their community was changing and no one cared.

"We've spent 18 months discussing Brexit but not looking at what caused it."

Cooper admitted to me afterwards that persuading traditional Labour heartlands like her own constituency in Castleford, Normanton and Pontefract - who voted to Leave in their droves - to trust how the Party was handling Brexit was challenging. And that they had to keep talking and reassuring voters to avoid seats turning away from Labour as Mansfield astonishingly did at the General Election this summer when a Tory MP was elected for the first time in a century.  

She said: "The way the Tories have handled it so far has been disastrous. I would like to see us stay in the customs union and the single market and have free movement.

"But I think that is currently harder to get now because the Tories have lost a lot of goodwill. He goes around as Foreign Secretary insulting people we are meant to be negotiating  with. As someone on Twitter said - the more you learn about Boris Johnson, Rees-Mogg and David Cameron - the more you think Eton School should be put into special measures.

"David Cameron will go down as the worst PM in post-war history. He should take responsibility for Brexit. He has ended up driving Britain out of the EU by accident."

Umunna said: "I cannot see how the Tories can get all the legislation through by the time scale suggested. My approach is to stay in the single market and the customs union. People voted to leave but didn't say HOW they wanted to leave.

"We need to hold the Tories to account for the promises they made and make it clear they are IMPOSSIBLE to deliver and try and change hearts and minds and attitudes."

Benn added: "If we don't do it well it can do great damage to the country. I've not met anyone other than Tory ministers who still think it is possible to negotiate this deal by the end of next October. Transitional arrangements are essential. And our next step should be to force the Government to change its mind about the customs union.

"It takes two minutes for each lorry coming from the EU to pass through our ports like Dover. If we have no customs deal and that time doubles to only four minutes there will be a queue of 17 miles on the M20 which will make Operation Stack look like a temporary problem."

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