Jeremy Corbyn was “in his heart of hearts” a Brexiter, his close ally Diane Abbott has said.
The former Labour leader will have to stand as an independent at the next election if he wants to remain an MP, after Keir Starmer announced on Wednesday his predecessor would definitely not be a Labour candidate.
Corbyn had the Labour whip taken off him in 2020 after he said cases of anti-Semitism in Labour while he had been leader were “overstated” by his political opponents.
Speaking to the News Agents podcast, Abbott was asked about Corbyn’s relationship with Starmer.
“They had a perfectly good relationship as far I knew, a perfectly friendly relationship,” she said.
“The only thing that they differed on was that Jeremy, in his heart of hearts is a Brexiter and Keir Starmer at that point, was passionately pro-European.”
Abbott served as shadow home secretary during Corbyn’s time as leader. Starmer was shadow Brexit secretary and was one of the main shadow cabinet proponents of holding a second referendum.
At the 2016 referendum Corbyn backed Remain. But many pro-EU Labour figures suspected he did so only begrudgingly.
Asked about his views on the EU, Abbott said: “I’ve known Jeremy a long time. Remember in the 80s, when he was sort of starting out in the party, Tony Benn, who was a huge hero to all of us, and a hero to the Labour Party grassroots, he was anti-EU.
“He saw it as a conspiracy of business people and so on. So, that was the common view on the left in the 80s. And I think it’s the view that Jeremy still held.
“But Jeremy has always been about uniting the party, he knew most party members were pro-European. But himself, I would say, deep down he was a Brexiter.”
Starmer took over as leader in April 2020 and has vocally and deliberately tried to distance his Labour from the party as it was under Corbyn.