Keir Starmer facing questions over SNP deal as Labour MP joins pro-independence conference

EXCLUSIVE: The Conservatives have warned that Sir Keir Starmer has questions to answer after a Labour MP attended a conference on breaking up the UK.

By David Maddox, Political Editor

Humza Yousaf discusses his hopes for Scottish independence

Questions have been raised about how strong Sir Keir Starmer's commitment to keeping the United Kingdom together after a senior Labour MP appeared to have been given permission to attend a conference supporting breaking it up.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis, a former Labour frontbencher, attended the Break Up Britain? conference in Edinburgh on Saturday which featured the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein.

The conference was held in honour of Tom Nairn an academic and supporter of Scottish independence and was supported by anti-Brexit billionaire George Soros's Open Democracy group, which previously supported Starmer's push for a second referendum on Brexit.

Mr Lewis' attendance has again raised concerns about whether a Labour government might be willing to do a deal with Humza Yousaf's SNP if they needed SNP support for a majority in Parliament.

With some senior Labour figures backing another Scottish independence referendum, there are concerns that under Labour there could be a repeat of the 2014 vote in Scotland.

Energy For All Protest in Londonn

Clive Lewis went to a pro-Scottish independence conference (Image: Getty)

Richard Holden, Conservative Party Chairman said: "Labour have serious questions to answer.

"Either they are totally incapable of keeping their MPs in line on a matter as important as the union – or they actually gave Clive Lewis their full blessing to attend this appalling conference dedicated to the breakup of Britain.

"Either way it’s not good, but the British people deserve to know the truth."

During the conference, Mr Lewis admitted that he had been queried about attending but said it was fine because the title had a question mark after Break Up Britain.

During his speech, he said: "Before I start, I almost didn't make it. I had a phone call from um elements in my party that said, 'do you really want to come to Scotland and make this speech?', and I had to explain that, you do realise there's a question mark at the end of the title of the conference, “the breakup of Britain, question mark” – which I think just about allowed me to come up."


Billionaire George Soros's Open Democracy group supported the conference (Image: Getty)
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The admission has led the Tories to claim that Mr Lewis was given permission by party whips to attend.

Lewis went on to make a series of arguments echoing the SNP’s campaign of grievance, complaining that the "political class" were denying Scottish independence whilst allowing England to "have Brexit".

He also claimed that the Union’s existence depended on historical "lies" about a "sanitised story" of slavery and the British Empire, and he even likened independence campaigners to the historic victims of the slave trade.

Lewis went on to applaud a speech calling for Scottish independence and said that he hoped that the ideas of the separatist intellectuals speaking at the event would "rub off" on him.

The event's official description claimed that Scotland was "trapped in an involuntary union" and Northern Ireland "held hostage".

Panels included a discussion about the future of the Yes campaign for Scottish independence and raised the prospect of a united Ireland, with an IRA historian as one of the speakers.

One panel even suggested that England was a victim of the Union.

The vast majority of speakers were in full support of the "dream of independence". Every attendee received a free copy of Scottish independence newspaper The National. has contacted Labour about Mr Lewis' attendance of the conference and what it means for party policy but not received an official response.

Sir Keir has ruled out supporting another referendum in Scotland or doing a deal with the SNP.

But critics have pointed out that he has already performed a number of U-turns on policies including his support for Jeremy Corbyn; his decision to ditch nationalising trains and energy companies having promised to do it; support for private outsourcing in the NHS having opposed it; and U-turn not to extend child benefit to more than two children.

A Labour source close to the leadership said: "Our position isn’t breaking up the country.

"Clive is among the very few in parliament that supports [Scottish independence] outside of the SNP - but Keir has definitely been asked about this at some stage and his view on record."

A senior Scottish Labour source also expressed fury at Lewis' attendance.

The source said: "He’s a total and utter idiot. He didn’t even come to help in [the] Rutherglen [by-election]. Selfish prat who shouldn’t even be in Labour."

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